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Russian official questions 'true reason' Trump canceled meeting with Putin

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/30/2018 John Fritze
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BUENOS AIRES – Russian President Vladimir Putin's government questioned the "true reason" President Donald Trump canceled their scheduled meeting at the G-20 summit in Argentina this weekend, suggesting the decision had more to do with U.S. politics than growing tensions between Moscow and Ukraine.

Trump abruptly canceled the meeting with Putin that had been planned for Saturday less than an hour after he told reporters he would "probably" go through with it. Trump's stated reason for calling the encounter off: A clash in the Sea of Azov in which Russia fired and then seized three Ukrainian ships.  

But the decision also came hours after Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia. The revelation ran counter to the president's long-stated position that he had no business dealings in Russia, and it threatened to overshadow the scheduled meeting with Putin.  

"Was Ukraine’s provocation in the Kerch Strait the true reason for the cancellation? We have heard the official explanation and taken note of it," Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told state media on Friday. "But is it true? I think the true reason is rooted in the domestic political situation in the United States, which is crucial for decision-making."

Though White House aides hoped the G-20 meeting would be focused on Trump’s trade policies, the president has instead had to respond to the developments involving Cohen. Trump said Friday that he had once “lightly looked” at doing a real estate project in Russia, despite years of denying he had any business ties in the country.

Vladimir Putin wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to waiting media during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland. © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to waiting media during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland. He decried the effort, which ultimately fizzled, as “very legal” and “very cool.”

Zakharova's statement came a day after Putin brushed off Trump's decision to cancel their meeting. A Kremlin spokesperson told a Russian state media outlet that if the meeting was off, Putin would have several hours freed up for other world leaders.

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