Putin ‘too busy’ to meet Obama

Putin ‘too busy’ to meet Obama

Putin ‘too busy’ to meet Obama

US President Obama (L) and Russian Prime Minister Putin (R) converse while having traditional Russian tea and snacks on a terrace in Putin’s residence outside Moscow in Novo-Ogarevo in this July 2009 photo. AFP photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin will miss the upcoming G8 summit in the United States as he is busy forming a government, just after starting his third term as head of state, the Kremlin said yesterday, raising new questions about Moscow-Washington ties.

Putin will however meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the G20 summit in June in Mexico, the Kremlin added, confirming an earlier statement by the White House. The trip for the May 18-19 G8 summit at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David was to have been Putin’s first foreign visit since his inauguration May 8 as president after his four-year stint as prime minister.

Putin told Obama in a telephone call that he “unfortunately cannot take part in the summit as on those days the formation of the Russian government will evidently still not be completed,” the Kremlin said. Russia will be represented at the G8 summit by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin confirmed. “The American side received this information with understanding,” according to the Kremlin statement, which added that the two presidents had agreed to hold a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in mid-June, which is set to be hosted by Mexico in the resort of Los Cabos.

No political message

Putin’s trip to Camp David would have been a chance for him to build a personal relationship with Obama, who he has met only rarely, unlike Medvedev who has held frequent talks with the U.S. president. The Kremlin’s chief economic adviser Arkady Dvorkovich denied that Putin was sending any political message by missing the meeting, saying that he genuinely had his hands full forming the new government.

Russian opposition to U.S. and NATO plans for a missile defense shield in Europe was the subtext of a surprise announcement earlier this spring of a change in venue for the G8 meeting. The summit was long planned to take place adjacent to a larger summit of NATO leaders in Chicago. Putin let it be known that he did not want to attend the NATO summit, as Russian leaders sometimes do by invitation, or engage NATO leaders on the missile issue, U.S. and other diplomats said. The missile defense plan is on the NATO agenda for Chicago, although most of the summit discussions are likely to center on Afghanistan.

Russia’s attendance still unclear

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in March that a NATO-Russia meeting during the summit was unlikely due to the busy political schedule in Russia. It is still unclear whether Russia will attend the Chicago summit or not.

A White House meeting between Putin and Obama right before Camp David had also been greatly anticipated, after the U.S. president was recently caught on camera confiding in Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” to tackle issues like missile defenses after the U.S. election on Nov. 6. Medvedev was overheard on an open microphone telling Obama that he would “transmit this information to Vladimir.”

The switch to Camp David was partly an attempt by the U.S. to appear welcoming to Putin, so that he could meet quietly with European and other large powers at the dawn of his presidency without the awkward juxtaposition of NATO and the missile shield issue, the diplomats said.