President Donald Trump has cancelled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend. The announced reason: Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian military vessels over the weekend.
Reporters traveling with the president to Argentina said the president tweeted out the cancellation after reviewing a report on Russia's actions and conferring with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and Trump chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly.
Trump also downgraded meetings with the presidents of South Korea and Turkey to informal chats, though the reason for that was unknown. It was not known if Pompeo would continue with plans to meet Russian Foreign MInister Sergei Lavrov during the G20.
Russia seized the ships on Sunday and is still holding the 24 sailors who were aboard them. Russia claimed Ukraine provoked the seizure by sending the ships through waters off the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and then annexed.
Ukraine argues — with US and European support — that Russia acted in violation of international law, which allows Ukraine to transit the waters, known as the Sea of Azov, to reach Ukrainian ports in the country's east.
Russian officials reportedly were not notified in advance of the cancellation, which came after a weekin which Trump had shown little personal concern about the seizure. It wasn’t until 24 hours after the seizure that Trump reacted at all, and then it was in a comment to reporters, not through his Twitter feed. Notably, he did not call then for the Russians to return the ships and sailors.
"We do not like what's happening either way. We don't like what's happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out," he told reporters. He added that the United States had "let our position be known."
Still, planning for the meeting apparently went ahead. The State Department announced Tuesday that the two leaders would meet during the G20. That announcement came almost 24 hours after Trump’s comments, which came several after a UN Security Council meeting where Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said that the United States stood behind Ukraine — but expected America’s European partners to take the lead in resolving the crisis.
Some saw the cancelled meeting as a sign that Trump was standing up to Putin.
“This is good. Let’s see if it lasts the weekend,” Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted.
Others were less impressed.
“This was [President Trump’s] opportunity to redeem himself, stand up for American values, stand up for international law, stand up for our own national security interests, and he had that opportunity and instead he's abdicating it.” said Sen.Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It is ironic that this President cannot find his spine to confront Vladimir Putin but can challenge the closest allies the United States has across the globe.”
The cancellation came hours after Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about whether he was pursuing the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2016. Trump has repeatedly denied that he had any business deals pending in Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The details of the Trump Tower Moscow deal were first revealed by BuzzFeed News in May.