Putin to skip G8 summit in US next week

WASHINGTON - Russia's new President Vladimir Putin told President Barack Obama Wednesday he would not come to the United States next week for the G8 summit, the White House said after the leaders spoke by phone.

Putin proposed sending former president Dmitry Medvedev, his new prime minister, to the May 18-19 meeting at Camp David and he will now meet Obama instead on the sidelines of the June 18-19 G20 summit in Mexico.

"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," a White House statement said.

"President Obama expressed his understanding of President Putin's decision and welcomed the participation of Russian Prime Minister Medvedev."

The statement said that the two leaders welcomed the "reset" of relations engineered by Obama and Medvedev during his just-ended presidency.

They also noted "substantial progress" during the last three years on issues like nuclear security, nuclear non-proliferation, Afghanistan, trade and commercial ties.

The announcement will add to uncertainty over the state of US-Russia relations in the new Putin era, though US officials appear satisfied so far after national security advisor Tom Donilon spent two days in Moscow earlier this month.

Putin has been highly critical of the United States, accusing Washington of helping or financing protest movements which have sprung up since controversial legislative elections in December.

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.

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