Trump Cancels G-20 Meeting With Putin Over Russia–Ukraine Tensions

November 29, 2018 Updated: November 29, 2018

President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was scheduled to take place during the G-20 summit in Argentina, citing Russia’s ongoing detention of Ukrainian ships and sailors.

“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 wrote on Twitter on Nov. 29. “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Trump made the decision aboard Air Force One en route to Argentina, after speaking to Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser John Bolton.

“It’s just happened in the last half-hour,” Sanders said.

The meeting between Trump and Putin was previously confirmed by the White House. Trump told reporters outside the White House less than two hours prior to the cancelation that he was contemplating terminating the meeting.

“I’m getting a full report on the plane as to what happened with respect to that and that will determine what I’m going to do,” Trump said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Putin on Nov. 29 of wanting to annex all of Ukraine and called for NATO to deploy warships to a sea shared by the two nations.

Poroshenko’s comments to German media are part of a concerted push by Kiev to gain Western support for more sanctions against Moscow, securing tangible new Western military help, and rallying opposition to a Russian gas pipeline that threatens to deprive Ukraine of important transit revenues.

Poroshenko’s Western allies so far haven’t offered to provide any of these things, despite his warnings of a possible Russian invasion after Moscow seized three Ukrainian naval ships and their crews on Nov. 25. Moscow and Kiev blame each other for the incident, which took place in the Black Sea near Crimea, the Ukrainian region occupied by Russia since 2014.

Putin has accused Poroshenko of manufacturing the crisis to boost his flagging ratings ahead of next year’s elections in Ukraine.

Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said Nov. 29 that Russia had imposed a de facto blockade on two Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, by barring ships from leaving or entering the sea via the Kerch Strait.

The Kremlin denied it was restricting shipping, saying it hadn’t heard of any problems.

Warships

Poroshenko told Bild he also wanted NATO to deploy warships to the Sea of Azov. Ukraine isn’t a member of the U.S.-led military alliance.

NATO, which has condemned Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian ships, said that alliance’s ships routinely patrol and conduct exercises in the Black Sea, that allies engage in regular air policing and reconnaissance flights there, and that the alliance has stepped up its activities since Moscow annexed Crimea.

“Three NATO members—Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey—are littoral states with their own national capabilities deployed in the Black Sea region,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. “So there is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region.”

The prospect of NATO warships heading to the Sea of Azov, which is separated from the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait, seems unlikely—it’s shallow, access to it is controlled by Russia, and the Kremlin would likely view any attempt by the Atlantic alliance to deploy there as a hostile act.

Poroshenko, who has temporarily imposed martial law in parts of Ukraine because of the crisis, also wrote on Twitter on Nov. 29 that he would impose unspecified restrictions on Russian citizens in his country.

Ukraine’s border service said it would only allow Ukrainian citizens to travel to Crimea via its land border with the annexed territory, while the head of the Ukrainian navy said Kiev would try to get Turkey to close the Bosporus Strait to Russian ships.

There were further signs that Russia was pressing ahead with its plans to fortify Crimea and turn it into what Kremlin-backed media have called a fortress.

Missile Systems

Russia on Nov. 29 deployed a new battalion of advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in Crimea—its fourth such battalion—according to TASS news agency, citing a spokesman for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Citing a Crimean security source, Interfax news agency also reported Russian plans to build a new missile early-warning radar station in Crimea next year that would be able to track ballistic and cruise missiles from a long distance.

Russia is also working on a new technical system to allow it to better track shipping around the peninsula in order to protect its maritime borders, according to Interfax.

The United States and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions toward Ukraine since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea following the toppling of a pro-Russian leader in Kiev.

Moscow later backed pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, in a conflict in which more than 10,000 people have been killed. Major fighting ended with a 2015 ceasefire, but deadly exchanges of fire are still frequent.

Nord Stream 2

Poroshenko urged Berlin to halt an undersea pipeline project that would allow Russia to supply more gas to Germany directly.

The Nord Stream 2 project is a potentially serious problem for Ukraine, which currently earns large transit fees from piping Russian gas to Europe and stands to lose out. Trump also opposes Nord Stream 2.

“We need a strong, resolute and clear reaction to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” Poroshenko told the Funke newspaper group. “That also means stopping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.”

But Germany’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, dismissed the idea that his country’s commitment to the pipeline undermined efforts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.

Poroshenko’s attempts to persuade the EU to impose new sanctions on Russia also are unlikely to bear fruit any time soon, diplomats say, given divisions within the bloc over how to deal with Moscow.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would raise the Black Sea issue with Putin at the G-20 summit, which starts in Argentina on Nov. 30.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov
RECOMMENDED