US President Barack Obama and Western allies moved to indefinitely cut Moscow out of a major international coalition today, including cancelling an economic summit Russian President Vladimir Putin was to host this summer.
The moves came amid a flurry of diplomatic jockeying as the US and Europe grappled for ways to punish Russia for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and to prevent Moscow from pressing further into Ukraine.
Also in the Hague, in an unexpected development, Russia’s foreign minister met with his Ukrainian counterpart, the highest level of contact between the two nations since Russia moved forces into Crimea nearly a month ago.
Mr Obama huddled with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan for an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven. Ahead of their private talks, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that the G-7 would not join with Russia this year for the annual meeting of the Group of Eight.
“As long as the political environment for the G-8 is not there, as at the moment, there is no G-8 – neither as a concrete summit nor as a format,” said Mrs Merkel, one of Mr Putin’s closest Western allies. Russia had been scheduled to host the summit this summer in Sochi, site of the recent Winter Olympics.
A Western diplomat said the G-7 leaders would instead meet in Brussels in June. The choice of location was symbolic, putting the meeting in the headquarters city of the European Union and NATO, two organisations seeking to bolster ties with Ukraine.
White House officials indicated Mr Obama was in step with Mrs Merkel. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that as long as Mr Putin keeps “flagrantly violating international law,” there’s no reason for the G-7 to engage with Russia. At the same time, he suggested that the US and other nations were not prepared to permanently disband the G-8.
“The door is open to Russia to de-escalate the situation,” Mr Rhodes said.
But Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who met Ukrainian foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia at an international security summit, said Moscow is unfazed by the West’s intention to snub the G8 summit.
He said the G8 has been useful to discuss global crises, such as the Iran nuclear stand-off or the Syrian civil war, but that Moscow “will not be clinging to this format”.
Meanwhile the G-7 leaders were expected to discuss plans for increasing financial assistance to Ukraine’s central government. Mr Obama was also seeking to win support from European leaders for deeper sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy, including its energy industry.
In another attempt to isolate Russia, Mr Obama held a separate meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country frequently sides with Moscow in disputes with the West.
“I believe ultimately that by working together, China and the United States can help strengthen international law and respect for the sovereignty of nations and establish the kind of rules internationally that allow all peoples to thrive,” Mr Obama said while standing alongside Xi ahead of their hour-long meeting.
In a counterpoint to Mr Obama and his G-7 partners, a group of five major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – issued a statement opposing sanctions and urging nations to work through the UN instead. The so-called BRICS nations said hostile language, sanctions and force do not “contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution”.