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Trump Cancels Meeting With Putin At G20 Due To Ukraine Crisis


Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and U.S. President Donald Trump at a meeting in Helsinki in July.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is cancelling a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin due to take place during the upcoming summit for the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized nations in Argentina, over Russia’s seizure of 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," Trump said in a tweet posted on November 29.

"I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved," Trump added after departing for the G20 summit.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted by telling Russian media that the Kremlin had not received any official information on the cancellation of the scheduled meeting between Putin and Trump in Argentina. He said Putin would still participate in the G20 summit.

"We are flying to Argentina. So far, we have only seen the tweet and the media. We have no official information," he was quoted as saying.

On November 25, Russian forces fired on Ukrainian ships and seized 24 sailors in the Black Sea off the coast of the Russia-controlled Crimean Peninsula.

Following the incident, Ukraine instituted martial law in parts of Ukraine and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on NATO to send ships to the Sea of Azov to help protect his country.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (file photo)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (file photo)

In an interview with the German tabloid Bild published early on November 29, Poroshenko said he hoped European states would take active steps, including increasing sanctions and military protection against Russia, to help Ukraine after providing verbal support in the wake of Russia's capture of the Ukrainian sailors.

"We hope that NATO states are prepared to send naval ships to the Sea of Azov to support Ukraine and provide security," Poroshenko said. He claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin sees himself as a "Russian emperor" and Ukraine as a Russian "colony."

"The only language he [Putin] understands is the solidarity of the Western world," Poroshenko said. "We can't accept Russia's aggressive policies. First it was the Crimea, then eastern Ukraine, now he wants the Sea of Azov."

Speaking at a German-Ukrainian economic forum in Berlin later the same day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she planned to press Putin at the G20 summit on 30 November-1 December to urge the release of the ships and crews.

"We can only resolve this in talks with one another because there is no military solution to all of these conflicts," she added.

'No Military Solution'

While blaming Russia for tensions, Merkel showed no signs of being ready to back military support.

"We ask the Ukrainian side too to be sensible because we know that we can only solve things through being reasonable and through dialogue because there is no military solution to these disputes," she said.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Peskov criticized Poroshenko’s request for NATO to deploy naval ships to the Sea of Azov, alleging it is "aimed at provoking further tensions" and driven by Poroshenko’s "electoral and domestic policy motives."

Putin has claimed that the naval confrontation was a ploy to boost his Ukrainian counterpart's popularity ahead of an election in March.

A NATO spokeswoman said the alliance already has a strong presence in the region, with vessels routinely patrolling and exercising in the Black Sea.

"There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region," Oana Lungescu said.

The Sea of Azov is the body of water that separates the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, from the Ukrainian and Russian mainlands. Russia opened a bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting Crimea with Russia in May and has asserted control over the strait.

The Kerch Strait is the only route for ships traveling between the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports, and the Black Sea, which is the arena usually patrolled by NATO.

Ukraine is a partner of NATO but not a member of the military alliance. NATO has already said it "stands with Ukraine" and has called on Russia to release the captured ships and their crew.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also warned Russia on November 26 that "its actions have consequences."

Poroshenko told Bild that he has evidence suggesting Russia is planning a new ground offensive against Ukraine, and he said he has shown NATO partners satellite pictures supporting that allegation.

"Germany also has to ask itself: What will Putin do next if we don't stop him?" Poroshenko told Bild.

'Justified' Restrictions

Later on November 29, the Ukrainian president tweeted that Kyiv will impose "restrictions" on Russian citizens in Ukraine.

"No need to run to shops and buy matches and salt. There will be no restrictions on cash withdrawals, currency-exchange operations, travels abroad for Ukrainian citizens. For Russian citizens, these restrictions will be introduced. And I think that's quite justified," he wrote.

Ukraine's State Border Guards Service said that it would only allow Ukrainian citizens to travel to Crimea following the imposition of martial law for 30 days.

"In connection with the introduction of martial law, the administrative border with temporarily occupied Crimea can be crossed exclusively with Ukrainian documents," a spokesman said on November 29.

Citizens from all nations were previously allowed to enter Crimea through the administrative border via mainland Ukraine. But the process for doing so for non-Ukrainians was fraught with bureaucracy. Crimea is accessible by plane from Russia or via Russia's newly-built bridge from the country's mainland. But under Ukrainian law those routes are illegal. Violators -- and there have been many -- are given official bans of three years or longer by Kyiv.

Russia has been providing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine who have been fighting the government since 2014 in a war that has killed more than 10,300 people.

But until the naval confrontation this week, in which Russia fired shots and rammed the captured Ukrainian vessels, injuring six crew members, it had not before engaged directly in battle with Ukraine.

An unknown number of the sailors captured by Russia have been transferred to a detention center in Moscow, one of their lawyer said on November 29. Dzhemil Temishev wrote on Facebook that his "colleagues" in the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow had informed him that some of the Ukrainian sailors had been brought there.

Emine Avamilyeva, another lawyer defending the sailors, said the Ukrainians were "taken by plane" to Moscow.

The lawyers could not say if all or only some of the sailors were being transferred.

There was no reaction from Russian authorities.

Russia's TASS news agency reported the same day that three Ukrainian officers wounded in the incident had been released from hospital in Kerch.

Meanwhile, the European Union has failed to muster support for any immediate new steps to either impose new sanctions on Russia over the naval incident or increase enforcement of existing sanctions on Moscow.

Poland, Britain, and the EU's Baltic countries have called for more sanctions, but after three days of debate, the EU's 28 member states could agree only to issue a statement on November 28 expressing "utmost concern about the dangerous increase of tensions" and the "unacceptable" use of force by Russia.

The statement issued by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini did not mention sanctions, saying only that the bloc will "act appropriately" while continuing to monitor the situation.

The bloc's top powers Germany and France have so far emphasized efforts to ease tensions. Other members, including Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, have been calling for a softening of sanctions on Moscow.

With reporting by RFE/RK correspondent Christopher Miller, dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP, and TASS