US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin did meet after all, speaking informally for a period of time during the G20 meeting held in Buenos Aires, Argentina over the weekend of Nov 30-Dec 1. However, at the present time, prospects for a more substantive policy meeting between the two leaders look dim, with the Kremlin’s Dmitry Peskov categorically saying that there is no possibility of President Putin going to Washington, D.C. for a meeting, at least not at this time.
In a report by Newsweek, it was learned that the two leaders actually did get a chance to talk:
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held what the White House described as “informal” conversations at the G20 summit in Argentina.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Saturday that the two spoke at a cultural dinner for leaders and their wives and husbands at the famed Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires Friday night. .
“As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the first lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin,” Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said that Trump and Putin had a brief meeting on the sidelines of the summit Friday, reported Reuters.
Ushakov said he met with U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton. Russia and the United States were ready to continue contact, he said.
Huckabee Sanders did not disclose the content of their conversation, but in a press conference later Saturday Putin revealed that Trump had questioned him about Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea.
“I answered his questions about the incident in the Black Sea. He has his position. I have my own. We stayed in our own positions,” Putin told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
Trump had canceled a formal one-on-one meeting with Putin ahead of the summit over the situation in Ukraine, citing Russian aggression as the reason. He had avoided greeting Putin when leaders posed for a picture ahead of the summit on Friday.
For his own part, President Putin was disappointed not to have held the formal meeting, as Newsweek continues:
“It is unfortunate that we can’t hold a full-format meeting,” Putin was quoted as saying. “I think it is very much needed, in connection with issues of strategic stability, especially after [Trump] announced that the United States plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (The INF)”
For the Russians, the main topic of concern as reported by TASS is indeed the US withdrawal from the INF, because they see the Americans as already having broken the treaty over the years through deployments from various NATO countries. The American point of view, as expressed by John Bolton in an earlier meeting with the Russian leadership, takes what appears to be a longer view, noting that several other nations have intermediate range nuclear missiles but are not bound by any limitations treaty, making only the United States the party in need of compliance to an antiquated agreement. However, TASS said a lot more (slight editing and emphasis added):
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with his US counterpart, Donald Trump, in Buenos Aires that was called off by the US leader was geared to outline ways of dialogue on the United States’ possible withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
“We expected this meeting between Putin and Trump, who could have discussed the process and outline ways to a potential dialogue on that topic. But, regrettably, as you know, the meeting never took place,” he said.
The Kremlin spokesman expressed concern over possible impacts of the United States’ withdrawal from that treaty. In his words, “consequences can be very bad” from the point of view of both European and global security. “If the Americans ultimately withdraw from that treaty, there is a high risk, although now they deny it, that they will deploy these missiles in Europe. It means NATO’s expansion towards our borders. If missiles are deployed in Europe, Russia will be forces to take steps to ensure parity,” Peskov said, adding that such “steps” would mean “targeting these missiles.”
“That is, European territories will be in cross-hairs of our missiles. So, here we are back in the glorious 1970s,” he said. “It is illogical. It is dangerous as instead of discussing development goals, we will find ourselves back in a situation of armed confrontation. It is very bad and that is why we are trying to initiate negotiations with the Americans, sending these or those signal to see no reciprocity, due to various reasons.”
It is impossible to create an alternative to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in the current political conditions, he said.
“There is room for improving the document. But is can be improved only on the basis of something concrete because in the current political situation it is next to impossible to produce such a complicated document if it is leveled to the ground,” he said. “It is possible to use it as a basis but it is absolutely impossible to start from scratch.”
“The best option is the US’ non-withdrawal from the treaty,” the Kremlin spokesman stressed. “We can agree, so to say, with certain criticism of the US side that Russia and the United States are not the only countries to have such missiles. Moreover, there is a range of countries where these missiles constitute the core of their arsenals. Naturally, it turns out in such conditions that Russia and the United States are bound by liabilities under this treaty while others continue to develop their arsenals.”
But Russia, in his words, categorically denies allegations that it violates the INF Treaty. More to it, the Kremlin insists that in is the United States “that directly or indirectly has not been restricted by this treaty for quite a time,” developing heavy unmanned aerial vehicles, systems for anti-missiles in regions that can be used to launch small-and intermediate-range missiles.
“It is a difficult problem and there is no alternative to dialogue between the two countries’ experts and political will from their leaders. You know about our leader’s political will. And the US leader is yet to announce his,” Peskov added.
The Kerch Strait Incident received more and more attention from the West as well as Russia, though in a different way than is usually the pattern. The West typically berates Russia for intimidating Ukraine. However this situation was tacitly acknowledged even by US news media as being a timed Ukrainian provocation, designed among other things to make the American president cancel his meeting with President Putin. Stephen F. Cohen acknowledged this in his interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, broadcast on the evening of 3 December, here:
As we have covered here, the powers-that-be seem intent on preventing any progress at all between the two greatest world powers. One must question why this is so.