WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was expected to occur during the G-20 economic summit because of an ongoing naval conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
“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 while aboard Air Force One. “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”
The much anticipated meeting was to occur at the two-day gathering of international leaders in Buenos Aires that begins Friday.
Trump abruptly reversed his decision to meet with the Russian president after having said a few hours earlier that he wasn’t sure if he would terminate the meeting.
“I was thinking about it. But we haven’t. They’d like to have it. I think it is a very good time to have a 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 just before boarding Marine One about 10:40 a.m.
The move also came as Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in a Manhattan courtroom Thursday morning to lying about a proposal to build a Trump Tower development in Moscow.
Cohen said he lied in 2017 about the timing of the project in order to be consistent with Trump’s claims that he had no commercial or political contacts with Moscow after the Iowa caucuses.
About Cohen, Trump said: “He’s lying very simply to get a reduced sentence.” The president added that he decided not to build the project in Moscow in 2016, but “there would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. That was my business.”
Trump, heavily criticized for his relationship with Putin, met with the Russian president in July in Helsinki. The two leaders held a joint news conference in which Trump accepted Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The planned meeting this week between the two leaders was the subject of much scrutiny among U.S. congressional leaders, including members of the president’s own party.
Adding to the tension was the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On Sunday Russia fired on and then seized three Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov, which is owned by the two countries. According to the BBC News, the vessels were stopped from entering the Kerch Strait and confronted by FSB border guards.