Putin tells Obama he'll skip G8 summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Barack Obama on Wednesday that he will be skipping next week's high-stakes G8 economic summit and sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place, the White House announced.

In a telephone conversation with Obama, Putin cited "his responsibilities to finalize Cabinet appointments in the new Russian government" in declining the invitation to join leaders of the world's richest nations at Camp David May 18-19.

An official Kremlin account of the exchange made no mention of the G8 summit—which is expected to focus on how to revive the sputtering global economy—but said Obama had "congratulated Vladimir Putin on officially taking office as President."

Putin on Wednesday marked an annual celebration of the country's contributions to defeating Nazi Germany with a forceful defense of Russia's foreign policy in a speech to troops and veterans thronged in Moscow's Red Square.

"Russia consistently follows a policy of strengthening global security, and we have a great moral right to stand up determinedly for our positions because our country suffered the blow of Nazism," he said.

The White House announcement came after a war of words between Washington and Moscow over a Russian security crackdown on demonstrations in the aftermath of Putin's election as president.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday that Washington was "troubled" by the arrests of protestors and "disturbed by images of police mistreatment of peaceful protestors both during the protests and after detentions."

And the White House has repeatedly condemned Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution meant to pressure Syria to halt a deadly crackdown on opposition to President Bashar Assad.

Putin, who has loudly condemned American plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe, used anti-American rhetoric during his recent presidential campaign, notably accusing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of encouraging "mercenary" critics of the Kremlin. Obama came to office vowing a "reset" of relations with Russia. The White House says that policy has netted successes, like Moscow's support for operations to supply American troops in Afghanistan. But Obama has faced fired from Republicans who have described it as all give, no get. Obama's recent candid comments that he would have more "flexibility" on missile defense after the November election have also drawn heated criticisms from Republicans.

The White House statement on the conversation highlighted that Obama and Putin had underscored "their mutual commitment to strengthening the US-Russian partnership."

"President Obama and President Putin noted with satisfaction the concrete achievements of the last three years and expressed their commitment to enhance bilateral cooperation on the basis of mutual strategic interests" and agreed to meet on the sidelines of the June 18-19 G20 summit in Mexico, the White House said.

"The two Presidents reiterated their interest in the sustained high-level dialogue that has characterized the re-set of relations, and the substantial progress of the last three years on issues like nuclear security and non-proliferation, Afghanistan, the WTO, and increased trade and commercial ties," it said.

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