Give the Russians credit — they’re trying. In fact, they may have become too trying for Donald Trump and the White House at the G-20 summit. After Trump abruptly announced that he would not meet with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines as originally planned, the Kremlin at first had no comment. This morning, however, Putin’s spokesman said the two would have an impromptu meeting during the conference:
Russian President Vladimir Putin may cross paths with Donald Trump while both leaders are in Buenos Aires this weekend for the Group of 20 summit, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
The two men may meet “on their feet” like the other leaders there, Peskov said. Trump surprised the Kremlin Thursday when he tweeted that he was canceling a sit-down meeting scheduled for Saturday because of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea.
The White House begged to differ:
The White House denied Friday that President Donald Trump has a pull-aside meeting planned with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Kremlin said an impromptu meeting between the two leaders would occur.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the two leaders may chat “on their feet” during the G-20 summit, according to a Bloomberg report. Asked for comment, a White House official said, “There is no scheduled pull-aside.”
That apparently annoyed the Kremlin even more. They responded by claiming that the snub has nothing to do with Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, but instead Trump’s own legal and political predicaments back home:
But on Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested the “US domestic political situation” was the real reason the meeting was spiked, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
“Was the provocation organized by Kiev in this region the real reason for cancellation?” Zakharova said in a press conference. “Publicly, we heard just such an explanation, we took note of it. Is this a reality? I think that you still need to look for answers in the US domestic political situation.”
Fact check: Partly true. Had it not been for a new eruption on the Russia-collusion front, it’s entirely possible that Trump would have gone ahead with this meeting. It would have been a highly ill-advised move on his part, as the need to put pressure on Putin to de-escalate with Ukraine has hit its most acute peak since the annexation of Crimea, but he might still have convinced himself that he alone could accomplish that. Keeping Putin at arms-length has clearly frustrated the Kremlin, and that’s not a bad outcome in the short run for showing solidarity with Europe on Ukraine.
Well, most of Europe, anyway. What is Angela Merkel thinking?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel still plans on meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina despite her delayed arrival.
Merkel’s arriving later than intended because a technical issue with her government plane forced her to change plans, but spokeswoman Martina Fietz said Friday she’ll still meet one-on-one with Putin on Saturday morning.
Merkel says she wants to press Putin on Ukraine and wants to be part of a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over the Kerch Strait. Merkel is less likely to get rolled by Putin than Trump (a la the Stinky in Helsinki), but it might make Trump worry that Merkel is gaining some advantage over him. That could lead Trump back to his instincts to sit down with Putin and game Europe before they can game him.
Also, look who else got “fraternity bro” friendly with Putin:
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) November 30, 2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed extra chummy at the G-20 summit in Argentina on Friday, exchanging a bro-y, high-five-handshake like old friends despite the harsh spotlight on the two world leaders accused of horrendous human rights violations.
The interaction comes as world leaders zero in on the crown prince for allegedly ordering the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. President Donald Trump, who walked into the room alone in the background while the two rulers embraced, had essentially absolved bin Salman of any culpability in the murder, arguing it was impossible to know for sure.
Perhaps they’re commiserating over being the least popular invitees:
President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, however, made it clear that any involvement by the crown prince in Khashoggi’s death was on the table for discussion at the summit. During the group’s “family photo,” bin Salman was pushed to a far corner of the group and quickly left once the photo was finished without talking to other world leaders, Reuters reported.
Let’s hope that Trump’s aides can maintain that separation, and that Trump sticks with his no-meeting plan. A little shunning might go a long way, but sanctions will make the point even more plain.