Ukraine tops agenda at G7 in Brussels

Russia excluded from meeting of western leaders

From left: US president Barack Obama, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, French president François Hollande, Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi, Britain’s prime minister David Cameron and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel at the meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

From left: US president Barack Obama, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, French president François Hollande, Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi, Britain’s prime minister David Cameron and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel at the meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 01:00

Ukraine topped the agenda of the G7 summit last night, as leaders of the world’s most powerful countries – minus Russia – gathered in Brussels.

The summit, the first to be held in the EU capital, had been scheduled to take place in the Russian city of Sochi but was rescheduled in April to exclude Russia in the wake of Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine.

As US president Barack Obama arrived in Brussels yesterday evening for a working dinner with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of France, Britain and Germany, the West was expected to urge Russia to accelerate troop withdrawals from the Ukrainian border.

But European Council president Herman Van Rompuy played down prospects of substantive development on further sanctions against Russia.

“At this stage we consider that we have some possibilities, diplomatic and political possibilities, to see if Russia is ready to engage more and stop the destabilisation in Ukraine,” he said.

While the decision to suspend Russia from the G8 had been taken “to show Russia that its actions also carry a political cost”, Mr Van Rompuy said it was premature to decide if Russia should rejoin the grouping.

Warning on sanctions

Earlier German chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament that the West would consider imposing further sanctions if Russian president Vladimir Putin did not use his influence to calm the situation in eastern Ukraine.

“It is decisive that President Putin use his influence to get the separatists to refrain from violence and intimidation . . . If this doesn’t happen . . . we won’t shrink from imposing further sanctions.”

The leaders are due to meet Mr Putin for the first time since the Ukraine crisis later this week in France for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

British prime minister David Cameron is also expected to urge his counterparts to take a tougher line against the Assad regime in Syria as elections continue in the war-torn country.

The G7 marks the first official meeting between Mr Cameron and Dr Merkel since last week’s meeting of EU heads of state amid continuing deadlock over the election of the next European Commission president.

Addressing parliament earlier yesterday, Dr Merkel appealed for compromise on all sides, saying she took seriously London’s reservations about Jean-Claude Juncker.

“I don’t share them but, to be clear, I consider extremely careless the relaxed air of some people . . . [on] whether the UK stays in the EU or not,” she said. “I am anything but apathetic. The UK is no comfortable EU partner, but it’s gotten a lot from Europe and given a lot back.”

She expressed hope for a compromise “in the European spirit”, while noting that a final decision did not require unanimity but a qualified majority of EU leaders.

Dr Merkel quoted a Westminster speech of former West German president Richard von Weizsäcker, who thanked the British people for “putting their existence on the line in the hope of all Europeans living in a better future”, before adding: “Britain doesn’t have to prove its European credentials.”

A German spokesman declined to comment yesterday on a Reuters report in which unnamed French officials said Dr Merkel had sounded out IMF managing director Christine Lagarde as a compromise European Commission candidate.

In a nod to critics who accuse her of sending mixed signals on Mr Juncker, the German leader said: “Good results in Brussels that consider everything rarely come in a hurry. We have time, therefore I am going to use it.”