Trump cancels planned G20 talks with Putin amid growing Ukraine tensions
US president tweeted decision while flying to Buenos Aires
File photo: US president Donald Trump, (left) shakes hands with Russian resident Vladimir Putin, at their previous formal sit-down meeting in Helsinki, Finland taken on July 16th, 2018 Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/ File
US president Donald Trump has abruptly cancelled bilateral talks with Vladimir Putin that were due to take place this weekend in Argentina, as tensions escalated between Moscow and Washington over the Russian seizure of three Ukrainian vessels.
“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with president Vladimir Putin,” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet as he flew to Buenos Aires for the G20 summit.
“I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!,” he said.
The talks, on the sidelines of the G20 event in Buenos Aires, would have been the first formal sit-down meeting between the two leaders since their summit in Helsinki in July.
The cancellation of the meeting will dash efforts to ease tensions as the US threatens new sanctions against Moscow and Mr Trump pledges to withdraw from a cold war-era agreement on limiting nuclear missiles.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, told Interfax: “We’re flying to Argentina. We’ve only seen the tweet and reports. We don’t have any official information.”
He added: “If that’s the case, the president will have a couple extra hours in his schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.”
Mr Peskov had called for “dialogue” between the countries ahead of the planned meeting.
Calls for release
Mr Trump had previously suggested that he could cancel the meeting in response to western condemnation of an incident off the coast of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014, where Russian boats fired on Ukrainian ships before detaining them and their 24 crew members.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is scheduled to meet Mr Putin at the G20, said on Thursday that she would demand the release of the Ukrainian ships and crew and allow free passage to the Azov sea.
“I am in favour of putting the facts of what has happened on the table – and that above all the soldiers are released and that confessions are not coerced, as we have just seen on TV,” Ms Merkel said.
She said a solution to the conflict would only come through negotiations. “There is no military solution,” she said at the opening of a German-Ukrainian economic forum.
She accused Mr Putin of worsening conditions for shipping by building a bridge to Crimea over the Kerch Strait. “This is the Russian president’s fault,” she said.
“Since this bridge was opened in May, the shipping conditions have deteriorated, although there is a Russian-Ukrainian treaty from 2003 which once again confirmed that the right of free navigation for all actors in the region must be possible.”
Mr Trump’s promise to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which is yet to be formally enacted, has raised concerns of a new arms race between the world’s largest nuclear-armed powers and fears over the future security of Europe, which was threatened by the Soviet Union’s missiles before the treaty.
‘No need for mediating efforts’
Before the meeting was cancelled, an aide to Mr Putin said the two presidents could discuss Sunday’s naval clash near the Kerch Strait. But the Kremlin had rebuffed suggestions that third parties should mediate between Moscow and Kiev.
“Moscow is grateful to everyone who is ready to promote the de-escalation of the tensions provoked by Ukraine but sees no need for mediating efforts,” Mr Peskov said on Thursday, in response to an offer from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Those who want and are able to help can do so by putting pressure on Kiev,” Mr Peskov added.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s president urged Nato members to send naval vessels to his country’s coastal waters for joint patrols in order, he said, to prevent Russia from imposing a sea blockade of exports.
“We hope that Nato states are prepared to send naval ships to the Sea of Azov to support Ukraine and provide security,” Petro Poroshenko said during an interview with Bild.
Mr Poroshenko told the German newspaper: “The only language he [Mr Putin] understands is the solidarity of the western world. We can’t accept Russia’s aggressive policies. First it was Crimea, then eastern Ukraine, now he wants the Sea of Azov.”
Since Mr Trump and Mr Putin’s summit in Helsinki, which saw the US president side with the Russian leader against his own intelligence services over allegations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US election, the White House has threatened new sanctions against Russia for its use of a chemical weapon in an attempted assassination of a former spy in the UK.
A bill proposed in the US Congress in August has also threatened to impose sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018