‘An awkward situation’: Russia puts on a brave face, but cancelled Putin-Trump Paris talks are another snub for the Kremlin

(Bloomberg) — The Kremlin sought to limit damage from another apparent snub after plans fell through for a meeting in Paris between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. leader Donald Trump.

Russian officials have pinned their hopes on personal contacts between the two leaders to help achieve a long-sought warming in relations with the U.S. that plunged to their worst since the Cold War under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Instead, ties have deteriorated further as the Kremlin has faced repeated rounds of new sanctions amid U.S. allegations of Russian election meddling.

Putin and Trump can’t hold talks on the sidelines of Sunday’s centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War as intended because the “schedule of the multilateral event doesn’t allow it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Instead, they will “cross paths” in a brief encounter and decide when to hold a full-scale meeting, Peskov said in a voice message.

Trump said Monday that a meeting will “probably not” take place in Paris, though he expected to see Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of the month “and probably we’ll have a meeting after that.” He didn’t give a reason for the change of plans other than to say he’s “going to be in Paris for other reasons.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump give a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, July 16, 2018.

Bilateral talks

Putin and Trump held their first bilateral summit in Helsinki in July and met for more than two hours on the sidelines of the G-20 talks in Hamburg last year. They also spoke briefly at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam in November last year. Both Russian and U.S. officials had said the two leaders intended to hold talks in France, though the Kremlin said last week that the meeting would only be “brief.”

“This is the second time we’ve been put into an awkward situation,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, which advises the Kremlin. At the APEC meeting, Putin had to content himself with casual contacts with Trump after the White House decided against a formal sit-down, he said.

“Since we are making a big thing about holding talks at the highest level we come across as needy,” Lukyanov said by phone.

In Paris, Putin and Trump will likely discuss their plans to meet at the G-20, Peskov said. Putin pulled out of the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea later this month after Trump said he won’t attend.

Meanwhile, there’s little prospect that the U.S. midterm elections taking place on Tuesday will lead to an easing of tensions with Russia, Peskov said. “We should not be deceived and believe that this will bring some clarity,” he told reporters on a conference call. “So far, there are no definite trends toward normalizing relations.”

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