Russian president Vladimir Putin made an early exit yesterday from a two-day summit of world leaders where he was roundly criticised over Russia’s escalating aggression in Ukraine, but brushed off suggestions that he had felt pressured.
Mr Putin was the first leader to fly out of Brisbane yesterday afternoon as his fellow leaders in the G20 club of wealthy and developing nations shared a lunch and before they released the communiqué to cap off their annual summit.
He also left Australia shortly before President Barack Obama and European leaders opened their talks on Ukraine, where Russia is backing separatist rebels in the east after annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In July, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down, killing all 298 people on board, while flying over a rebel-held area of east Ukraine.
Mr Putin explained he left early because he wanted to be rested before returning to work. He began the half-hour news conference by praising his host, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, for providing a “nice, welcoming and good working atmosphere.
New Corp newspapers in Australia reported yesterday that Mr Putin was, the day before, considering an early departure in response to the cold shoulder from world leaders. But Abbott’s office said the early afternoon exit had been scheduled.
The US, Australia and Japan issued a statement condemning Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper reacted to an offer of a handshake from Putin by responding, “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.”
Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union, has tilted toward the European Union, angering Mr Putin who wants to keep the country within Russia’s orbit. Mr Obama bluntly accused Mr Putin of not living up to a cease-fire agreement in Ukraine, but offered no new plans for how the West might change his calculus.
Mr Obama spoke shortly after huddling with European leaders to discuss the conflict and worsening security situation. On the potential for strengthening sanctions against Russia, mr Obama said the US and European allies were always looking at more penalties but the existing sanctions were “biting plenty good”.
Mr Abbott has been particularly strong-worded in his criticism of Russia since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane was shot down in July. Australia lost 38 citizens and residents in the disaster.
Mr Putin said Ukraine was never mentioned during the official G20 meetings, but was brought up at every meeting with other leaders he attended on the sidelines. “There was a shared understanding that sanctions are bad for both countries and we also talked about what should be done to get out of this situation,” he said.
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