Trump: Ukraine is 'sole reason' for canceling Putin meeting

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE on Friday said Russia's recent military actions against Ukraine were the “sole reason” he decided to scrap a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this week's Group of 20 summit.
 
In remarks to reporters, Trump downplayed the notion that the meeting was canceled due to developments in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Moscow's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
 
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“We don't like what happened, we're not happy about what happened,” Trump said during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, referring to Russia's seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and personnel earlier this week. “On the basis of what took place with the ships and sailors, that was the sole reason."
 
Trump's planned meeting with Putin was one of the most highly anticipated events heading into the global summit in Argentina that started Friday, but the president abruptly announced on Thursday he would no longer meet with the Russian leader.
 
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the decision was made aboard Air Force One en route to the summit after Trump discussed the Ukraine situation with his national security team.
 
Some in Washington said they suspected Trump may have wanted to avoid appearing with Putin after Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about plans in 2016 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
 
Cohen's confession fueled accusations that Trump sought to make business deals with a hostile foreign power, which was trying to meddle in U.S. elections, while he was campaigning for president. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin in those efforts.
 
The project, which was never completed, was reportedly expected to include a $50 million penthouse that would be given to Putin.
 
Despite Trump's comments that the Ukraine tensions were the only reason for not meeting with Putin this week, Sanders issued a statement earlier Friday blaming the Mueller probe for inflaming tensions with Moscow.
 
“The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is hopefully now nearing an end, is doing very well,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia. However, the reason for our canceled meeting is Ukraine. Hopefully, that will be resolved soon so that productive conversations can begin.”
 
Russian officials reportedly said Trump and Putin still planned to hold a brief, impromptu conversation at the summit. The White House has not confirmed those plans.
 
“There is no scheduled pull aside,” a White House official told reporters.
 
Russia last weekend seized three Ukrainian ships and nearly two dozen sailors off the coast of Crimea, the territory Moscow annexed by force in 2014. The incident drew international condemnation and raised the possibility of a response from NATO and the United Nations.