With Russia outside the tent, G7 takes aim at Moscow

Saturday, 7 June 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: The United States and its allies used the first Group of Seven meeting without Russia in 17 years to condemn Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and threaten hard-hitting sanctions if President Vladimir Putin does not help restore stability. Meeting in Brussels rather than the Black Sea resort of Sochi – a snub to Russia which was supposed to have hosted the G8 – Western powers and Japan delivered strong rhetoric, even if the EU’s commitment to further sanctions remains in doubt. “We are united in condemning the Russian Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Italy and Canada said in a joint statement. “Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine, are unacceptable and must stop.” That message was reinforce by President Barack Obama, who said Russia’s economy was already suffering and would only suffer more if Putin did not change behaviour. “If Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussions here that the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia,” he said. “Today, in contrast to a growing global economy, a sluggish Russian economy is even weaker because of the choices made by Russia’s leadership.” Putin, who will meet Germany’s Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Britain’s David Cameron on the sidelines of 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France on Friday, appeared unfazed by the threats. Asked at an event in St. Petersburg how he felt about being excluded from the G8 for the first time since joining the club in 1997, Putin was typically pointed, barely breaking stride to speak to Kremlin reporters as he left a meeting. “I would like to wish them bon appetit,” he said, before walking away swiftly. It appears unlikely that Obama and Putin will talk in France. “Should we have the opportunity to talk, I will be repeating the same message that I’ve been delivering to him throughout this crisis,” Obama said.       Widespread condemnation With Putin not at the table, the G7 leaders chose to criticise Russia either by name or implicitly for its actions on several fronts, including Syria and energy policy. On Syria, the G7 ‘deplored’ a decision by Russia and China to veto a draft UN Security Council resolution involving crimes committed by both sides in the conflict, and on energy policy it highlighted the problem of countries using energy as a weapon. “The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable,” the statement said. Since Russia supplies around a third of Europe’s gas and oil needs and has threatened to cut off supplies to and through Ukraine if it does not settle outstanding bills, the reference was clearly directed at Moscow. Yet despite efforts to present a united front against Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its tacit support for actions in eastern Ukraine, there remain chinks in the G7’s armour when it comes to hitting where it hurts. France, which has come under pressure from the United States to cancel a contract to sell Russia two Mistral warships, appeared to win the argument, with Obama acknowledging that the deal would probably go ahead despite his objections. Merkel also gave Hollande support, saying that since the EU was not yet ready to impose tougher economic sanctions against Russia, there was no reason for France to cancel contract. Japan, which geopolitically has less interest in Ukraine, struck a conciliatory note, saying dialogue with Russia remained the best approach. “I want Russia to be involved in various issues concerning the international community in a constructive manner,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “That’s what the world desires too. To this end I’m hoping to continue dialogue with President Putin.” EU leaders said they would closely monitor Russia’s actions over the coming weeks and take a decision at a summit at the end of June on whether there was a need for further measures. “Should events so require, we stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to consider additional measures,” said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs EU summits and coordinates the position of EU member states. “The European Council will assess the situation at the end of June. The day after tomorrow in France individual G7 leaders will convey this message to President Putin.”    

 Obama says wants Scotland inside the UK, Britain inside the EU

  Reuters: President Barack Obama on Thursday gave the strongest signal yet that the United States wanted to see the United Kingdom remain inside the European Union and Scotland to preserve its 307-year-old union with England. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the EU to claw back a range of powers if re-elected next year and to then give Britons a referendum on whether to remain inside the EU in 2017. In just over three months, on Sept. 18, another big vote – a referendum in Scotland on whether to break away from the United Kingdom and declare independence – will also be held. When asked at a G7 news conference in Brussels what the votes in Scotland and Europe meant to him and the people of the United States, Obama said the Scottish vote was for Scots to decide but that the United States wanted a ‘united’ partner. “From the outside at least it looks like things have worked pretty well and we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner,” Obama said. Speaking to reporters at a joint news conference with Cameron, Obama also made it clear he’d prefer Britain to stay inside the EU, saying it was encouraging for Washington to know its ally had ‘a seat at table in the larger European project’. He said the 70th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day landings was a reminder of Britain’s role in bringing Europe together, saying he struggled to imagine the European project working without Britain or Britain prospering outside it. “It is hard for me to imagine that project going well in the absence of Great Britain and I think it is also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life,” Obama said.

 Left out of G7 summit, Putin wishes world leaders ‘bon appetit’

  Reuters: Vladimir Putin, shut out of a G7 summit over Russia’s role in Ukraine, parried the snub on Thursday with a terse message for world leaders who lunched without him in Brussels on Thursday: ‘Bon appetit’. Putin should have been hosting the heads of leading industrialised nations at a summit of the G8 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi this week. But the G7 nations scotched those plans in protest against Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, and the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan held their summit without him. Asked how he felt about this, Putin barely broke stride to spit out an answer to Kremlin reporters who had been advised to await him at the bottom of a sweeping staircase at the Russian Geographical Society after a meeting on Arctic policy. “I would like to wish them bon appetit,” he said, using the Russian equivalent of the phrase, and then walked away swiftly. Russia joined the G7 in 1997, making it the G8 and marking a milestone in Moscow’s rapprochement with the West after the collapse of communism and breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the crisis in Ukraine has driven Russia’s relations with the United States and European Union to a post-Cold War low. Western nations have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on officials, lawmakers and companies close to Putin. At the G7 summit, which was ending on Thursday, the leaders threatened to impose harder-hitting sanctions on Russia if it did not help restore stability to eastern Ukraine, where Western nations accuse Moscow of supporting separatists. Putin’s isolation from the West is only partial. From St Petersburg he was flying to France, where he was to have supper with President Francois Hollande later on Thursday before taking part in D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations on Friday. Putin was also expected to hold separate meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron while in France, but no meeting with US President Barack Obama was scheduled.