Saturday 15 December 2018

Trump warns he may cancel Putin meeting over Ukraine

Call to arms: Ukrainian soldiers take part in drills in the Chernihiv region in the north of the country. Photo: Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters
Call to arms: Ukrainian soldiers take part in drills in the Chernihiv region in the north of the country. Photo: Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters

Dean Grey

US President Donald Trump has said he might cancel his planned sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin following Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships last weekend.

In an interview with 'The Washington Post', the US president said he would be receiving a "full report" from his national security team on Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea. He said he would decide on a course afterward.

"Maybe I won't have the meeting," said Mr Trump, who is travelling to the G20 summit in Argentina. "Maybe I won't even have the meeting."

Mr Trump added: "I don't like that aggression. I don't want that aggression at all."

The comments were Mr Trump's strongest to date in condemnation of Russia's actions in Ukraine, where tensions are flaring. But White House aides were still planning for the Putin meeting after Mr Trump's comments.

Ukrainian sailors were filmed giving what Kiev said were forced confessions and brought to court after Russia seized their ships off the coast of Crimea.

A court in Crimea ruled 12 of the 24 captured sailors and security service agents would be kept in confinement for two months. A decision on the rest was expected yesterday.

Moscow has defied calls to release the men, who have been accused of violating Russia's borders and face up to six years in prison. At least three of the men are in hospital.

Mr Putin yesterday accused Ukraine of provoking the incident, saying President Petro Pereshenko was attempting to boost his ratings before elections next year.

Mr Poroshenko had declared martial law in 10 border areas.

"He had to do something to make the situation more tense," Mr Putin told an investment forum in Moscow.

He insisted Russia's military response was appropriate as the Ukrainians had "trespassed" into Russia's territorial waters.

"This political froth will die down," he suggested, hours after Russia announced it would send a new surface-to-air missile system to Crimea next month, to join the three already deployed this year.

The meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin is set to be just one of several high-profile foreign policy engagements for the US leader on his two-day visit to Argentina.

Mr Trump is also set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in what may be a pivotal session to determining if and how the ongoing trade dispute between their two countries could be resolved. National Security adviser John Bolton said Mr Trump would also be meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, South Korea's Moon Jae-in, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Geneva, said the US should stop encouraging provocative moves by Ukraine and instead mediate between Kiev and rebel-held Ukrainian regions.

Mr Lavrov said Ukrainian warships had ignored maritime law on Sunday when they tried to enter the Kerch Strait, aiming to create a scandal for domestic political purposes. US encouragement for such acts "saddened" him.

Ukraine released what it said was the exact location where its ships were fired on by Russia, showing they were in international waters approaching from the west, not from the east, as Mr Putin has suggested.

The Kremlin said Mr Poroshenko had asked to speak by phone to Mr Putin about Moscow's seizure of the three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews, but Russia had refused.

"I can say that there was a request, but a conversation did not take place, so to speak," Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said.

The Kremlin has warned Ukraine's declaration of martial law in regions that border Russia could re-ignite the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Putin also claimed the Ukrainian vessels refused to communicate with Russian border guards and were in violation of Russia's territorial waters off the country's south, which, unlike the Crimean coast, is Russia's internationally recognised border.

This runs counter to the Ukrainian government's allegations.

Kurt Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine, said in Berlin that Washington saw no reason to doubt the information from Kiev that its vessels were operating in line with international maritime rules.

Irish Independent

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