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Talk of Putin and his actions in Ukraine dominates G-7 summit

Published: Thursday, June 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Two security guards pass the entrance of the European Council building in Brussels on Wednesday, ahead of a 2-day G7 meeting. Leaders will deliberate their next steps in response to the enduring unrest in Ukraine, after sidelining Russia for its role in the crisis.

BRUSSELS (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin was kept out of Wednesday’s summit of major economies over his actions in Ukraine, yet world leaders appeared eager to seek his renewed cooperation to settle the crisis.

“At this stage, we consider that we have some possibilities, diplomatic and political, to see if Russia is ready to engage more and to stop the destabilization in Ukraine,” said the summit’s host, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy.

When pressed on further sanctions against Russia, Van Rompuy told reporters “we only continue the preparations” on a technical level, should they be necessary.

Since Russia refrained from a full-out invasion of Ukraine, started pulling back its troops from the border, and reluctantly accepted the results of Ukraine’s presidential election, Western leaders apparently no longer want to talk about imposing new sanctions, but sought to renew diplomatic contacts.

That effort is already well under way with French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all planning talks with Putin during ceremonies for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion later this week. U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has no plans to meet with Putin.

In March, the U.S. and its most important allies retaliated for Putin’s military occupation and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by suspending Russia’s membership in what had been the G-8 club of rich countries. They also nixed Putin’s plan to hold the meeting in Sochi, the city Russia lavished billions on to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

At the time, Obama promised to “impose a greater cost” on Putin and his country if the confrontation over Ukraine escalated. But beyond a ringing statement of unity and a stiffly worded communique directed at Russia from the Brussels gathering of Obama and the leaders of Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, little more is expected. How to handle relations with Putin was certain to dominate the leaders’ dinner.

“I don’t see what else could dominate the agenda,” said Vivien Pertusot, head of the Brussels office for the French Institute of International Relations.

The G-7 members are also aware that they can’t fully alienate Putin because they need his support to manage other global security concerns like Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. However, their positions on Russia diverge significantly.

The United States has decided Russia will remain a strategic challenge. Speaking in Poland on Wednesday, Obama announced new military measures meant to reassure NATO allies in Eastern Europe worried about Russia. But the Europeans, who get oil and gas from Russia and are keen on doing business with Moscow, were never that keen to isolate the country. Germany always stressed it wanted to maintain a constructive dialogue with Russia, and France has even continued building warships for the Russian Navy.

“The Group of Seven has stood together very well over the past weeks on this issue we are discussing tonight; the question of Ukraine and Russia,” Merkel insisted upon her arrival in Brussels. The leaders will discuss how to further support Ukraine and renew dialogue with Russia, while making it clear that the threat of sanctions remains on the table, she said.

On Thursday, the G-7 will discuss the world economy, energy and climate policy and development.

The meeting was not expected to produce any major decisions. Many observers criticize the format as being mostly a talking shop since the role of setting rules for global economic governance in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis has shifted to the wider Group of 20, which also includes emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.


AP correspondents Raf Casert in Brussels, Jill Lawless in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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