U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday cited the current Ukraine crisis for cancelling a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was scheduled for during the G20 summit in Argentina.
“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,” Trump tweeted after departing for the summit.
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. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!
The decision appeared to take the Kremlin by surprise. Shortly after Trump posted the tweet, a Kremlin spokesperson said it had not been notified the meeting was off.
Russian news agencies quoted Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, as saying Moscow’s only indication of the cancellation was from Trump’s tweet. He said the Russian delegation was already on its way to the summit.
Peskov said the cancellation means that Putin would have “a couple of more hours” for “useful meetings” with other leaders.
Trump’s tweet on the meeting was a sudden about-face. Roughly an hour before it was posted, he told reporters he would “probably” meet with Putin, despite his displeasure with Russian actions against Ukraine.
“They would like to have it. I think it’s a very good time to have the meeting,” Trump said.
But Trump also said he would get a report during the flight on the region’s escalating tensions after Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels near Crimea on Sunday. Russia said Ukraine didn’t have permission to pass between Russia’s mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, but Ukraine has maintained its vessels abided by maritime laws.
White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump made the decision to cancel after speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton.
Trump’s tweet came at a time when holding talks with Putin now could represent bad optics for the White House.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Organization skyscraper in Moscow, prompting Trump to lash out at Cohen as a “liar” and “weak person.”
Differences over Ukraine, as well as Moscow’s role in the civil war in Syria, have been an irritant in U.S.-Russian relations for years.
The administration of then President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. That in part brought ties between Washington and Moscow to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Following Trump’s tweet Thursday, the White House said he had also cancelled formal meetings at the G20 with Turkey and South Korea, preferring to speak informally with leaders at the summit.