WASHINGTON — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will skip the G8 summit and ice breaker talks with President Barack Obama next week, the White House said, raising new questions about Moscow-Washington ties.
Putin had been expected at the summit at Camp David and to hold talks with the US leader in a first test of whether the “reset” policy between the Kremlin and the White House will survive his return to the presidency.
Officials said here after a call between the two leaders, that Putin would send ex-president, and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, with whom Obama had a close relationship over the last three years, to the United States.
“Noting his responsibilities to finalize cabinet appointments in the new Russian government, President Putin expressed his regret that he would be unable to attend the G8 Summit,” the statement said.
The Kremlin confirmed Thursday Putin will miss the summit, but will meet Obama at the G20 summit in June in Mexico.
“The American side received this information with understanding,” it added. It also confirmed Putin would be represented by Medvedev.
The summit at Obama’s Camp David retreat on May 18-19 will also mark the international coming out party of new French president Francois Hollande,
Putin’s move raised suspicions that there was already tension between the White House and Putin’s Kremlin, following an election campaign that saw the Russian leader fling angry rhetoric towards Washington.
But US officials noted that Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon spent two days in Moscow earlier this month where he met Putin and did not appear to believe there were sinister motives behind his decision to stay at home.
They said the US and Russian leaders will use the G20 summit in Mexico in June to get together instead, and the statement stressed the two sides wanted to work on common interests, despite differences in some areas.
It said that the two leaders welcomed the “reset” of relations and noted “substantial progress” during the last three years on issues like nuclear security, nuclear non-proliferation, Afghanistan, trade and commercial ties.
The Kremlin earlier reported Obama’s call with Putin but did not mention the Russian leader’s no-show at Camp David.
Putin’s non-arrival will dampen hopes for any progress on ending the violence in Syria, an ally of Russia, which has blocked the most punitive attempts to sanction President Bashar al-Assad’s at the UN.
Washington and Moscow have also been increasingly at odds over the issue of a US missile shield in Europe, which the US side says is not threat to Russia but the Kremlin says erodes its military deterrent.
In tough rhetoric last week, Russia warned that the dispute was near a “dead end” and warned it might have to deploy new rockets in Europe to take out elements of the controversial shield.
Obama signaled to Medvedev, in an infamous open-mic incident in what was supposed to be their last meeting in Seoul in March, that he could be more flexible on missile defense if he wins reelection in November.
After four years as prime minister, Putin began his third term as Russian president on Monday in an opulent Kremlin ceremony overshadowed by more arrests of activists protesting his 12-year domination of the country.
US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that the United States was “disturbed” by Russia’s security crackdown on peaceful protesters and urged the authorities to allow freedom of speech and assembly.