BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Russian President Vladimir Putin had the opportunity to meet with US President Donald Trump – but their brief exchange on Ukraine was inconclusive.
Russia had a brave face after Trump abruptly convened a much-awaited meeting with Putin because of US domestic politics and his "anti-Russian hysteria". rally in Argentina, where Western leaders rallied to denounce Russia's actions in Ukraine.
The two men ended up talking briefly Saturday on the sidelines of the G-20 – just the time that Trump asks Putin what he's doing in Ukraine and what Putin is reacting to.
"I answered his questions about the Black Sea incident. He has his position. I have mine. We stayed in our own positions, "Putin told reporters.
So Putin has turned elsewhere to attract attention.
He replaced the Turkish president with a time slot reserved for Trump and sought to strengthen his alliance with China and other non-Western economies. He also took part in Friday's roundtable with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a fellow out-group at the G-20 for his alleged role in the assassination of a Saudi dissident journalist.
Putin called "damage" the fact that Trump canceled their official meeting and discussed the potential consequences if the leaders of the two largest nuclear powers in the world could not talk to each other. Putin warned that the United States' intention to withdraw from a cold-war era nuclear pact "creates risks of an uncontrollable arms race."
At the opening of the summit, European leaders lined up to criticize what was called "aggression" of Russia against Ukraine – the weekend seizure of Ukrainian ships and crew members near Crimea. The Foreign Ministers of the Group of Seven issued a statement calling for the release of seafarers.
The impasse was the official reason why Trump had canceled his meeting with Putin, describing "what's really bad" in Ukraine.
The Russian interpretation of the cancellation, however, echoes that of some Trump detractors at home, who note that this decision comes as new challenges arise Trump in the investigation of the alleged role of Russia in his election campaign of 2016.
"If the internal situation and the pressure of Russophobes like Ukraine and its sponsors prevent the US president from developing normal relations with the Russian president … we will wait for another opportunity," said the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, adding that "love can" not be forced. "
Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky said that Trump probably feared that if he met Putin, his national rivals "call him a Russian agent".
Isolated by Western democracies, Putin instead sought to give new strength to the so-called BRICS group composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
"The five countries can, for good reason, play a bigger role in the global financial system, strive for further reform of the IMF, and strengthen our influence within the Fund," Putin said at a press conference. A meeting of the BRICS.
He did not, however, avoid Western criticism. Putin met Friday with the French president – he carefully mapped a map of the Ukrainian coastline to explain Russia's claims that the seizure of Ukrainian ships was justified – and will visit the German Chancellor on Saturday.
Yet what Putin really wants is an agreement with Trump.
The Russian leader, who views world politics as a game of cynical power, sees himself as an accomplished negotiator, able to defend Moscow's interests through close personal contacts with foreign leaders.
He has repeatedly said that he believes Trump sincerely wanted to improve relations with Russia, but his political opponents prevented him from doing so.
"Playing the Russian card has become a practical tool for solving internal political problems," Putin said recently. "I hope it will end someday. This may happen in 2020 during the next US presidential election and it will no longer have to look back permanently at those who engage in anti-Russian rhetoric. "
Putin's wish list is completed by the wish to see the end of the paralyzing sanctions against Russia imposed by the United States and its allies for Russia's annexation of Russia from the Crimean peninsula, its support for the insurgents separatists in eastern Ukraine and other Moscow actions.
Putin also wants to talk to Trump about his intention to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty due to alleged violations of Russia. Putin firmly denied any violation of the pact by Russia.
The Russian leader warned that if the US deployed intermediate-range missiles currently banned under the treaty in Europe, Russia should target the nations that would host them.
These weapons are considered extremely destabilizing because they only take a few minutes to reach the targets, leaving hardly any time for decision makers and greatly increasing the possibility of a nuclear conflict following a false attack warning or a technical problem.
There was a risk that the Trump-Putin meeting might have worked for both of them.
After the summit with Putin in July, Trump was widely criticized for failing to publicly denounce Russia's interference in the 2016 US election and to accept Putin's denial. More anti-Russian sanctions followed and relations deteriorated further.
Associated press reporter Angela Charlton made a report in Buenos Aires and AP editor Vladimir Isachenkov of Moscow.
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