BRUSSELS (TIP): World leaders urged Vladimir Putin on June 4 to stop destabilizing Ukraine or face further sanctions as they met without a Russian president for the first time since the 1990s. Putin reached out a hand despite being banned from the Group of Seven summit following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, saying that he was ready to meet Ukraine’s president-elect. But G7 leaders said that while they still hoped for “constructive” talks with Putin on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in France on Friday, Moscow could face further punitive measures.
In a joint communique they said Putin must recognize the results of Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election, won by Petro Poroshenko, stem destabilization in the east of the country, and pull Russian troops back from the border. “Actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop,” the group said. “We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require.”
The leaders have warned Russia that manipulating energy supplies to intimidate one’s neighbours is unacceptable and that they need to diversify their energy systems to avoid getting blackmailed. “The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable,” a draft G7 summit statement seen by AFP said. Russia supplies about 30% of Europe’s gas, with about half of that transiting Ukraine. Obama has shown no signs of wanting a meeting with Putin despite the fact that both will be in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings in Europe.
Other G7 leaders whose economies are more exposed to Russia than Washington took a softer tone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that European leaders would “take stock” of Russian actions at a summit end June and “reflect which further sanctions are necessary”. But Merkel, who is due to meet Putin in France, said that “the main thing is to be constructive” and that further sanctions would take effect only if there had been “no progress whatsoever”.
French President Francois Hollande – who is scheduled to have separate dinners with both Putin and Obama in Paris on Thursday – agreed that “dialogue and deescalation must be encouraged”. British PM David Cameron said he would be taking a similar message to Putin when he meets him also on Thursday. Putin hinted that he could meet both Poroshenko and even Obama, saying “I don’t plan to avoid anyone”.
But he taunted the United States and waved away allegations of Russian military meddling in eastern Ukraine. “Proof ? Let’s see it!” he said. “The entire world remembers the US secretary of state demonstrating the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the UN Security Council,” Putin said.