Putin frozen out by critical G20 leaders over Ukraine agenda

Kremlin spokesman denies president’s rumoured departure from Brisbane summit


Western leaders warned Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Australia today that he risked further economic sanctions if he failed to end Moscow’s backing for separatist rebels in Ukraine.

Russia denied any involvement in an escalation of the separatist war in eastern Ukraine, where more than 4,000 people have been killed since April, but faced strong rebukes from leaders including US president Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

“I guess I‘ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine,” Mr Harper told the Russian president at the summit in Brisbane, Australia, according to his spokesman Jason MacDonald.

Mr Putin’s response was not positive, said Mr MacDonald, without elaborating.

A source in Mr Putin’s delegation said the Russian president would leave the summit early, skipping a working breakfast tomorrow, because he needed to return to meetings in the Russian capital.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any such plans. “This is wrong. The president is taking part in all the (G20) events,” he said.

Western nations have imposed successive rounds of sanctions on sectors like oil and banking, as well as individuals close to Putin. The twin approach is squeezing Russia’s economy at a time when falling oil prices are straining the budget and the rouble has plunged on financial markets.

Mr Putin’s isolation was evident with his placing on the outer edge for the formal G20 leaders’ photograph. While Obama and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping were met by Australia’s governor general and attorney general when they arrived in Brisbane, the Russian leader was greeted by the assistant defence minister.

Despite being under intense pressure, Putin was all smiles, shaking hands with Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. The host had threatened to “shirt front”, or physically confront, Mr Putin over the downing of MH17, in which 28 Australians died.

A Kremlin spokesman said the Ukraine crisis was the only topic discussed at a one-on-one meeting between Mr Putin and British prime minister David Cameron. But he added that both expressed interest in “ending confrontation” and rebuilding relations. Mr Putin also met French president François Hollande and both agreed to protect their ties from the effects of sanctions, said the spokesman.

The European Union demanded Moscow withdraw troops and weapons from Ukraine and put pressure on rebels there to accept a ceasefire, after the latest fighting wrecked a truce agreed in September.

EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to assess the situation in Ukraine and whether further steps including additional sanctions are needed against Russia, said European Council president Herman Van Rompuy. US president Obama plans to meet European leaders to discuss the matter tomorrow, he added.

Mr Obama said earlier today that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was “appalling” and a threat to the world, while European nations threatened further sanctions against Moscow if it did not end the flow of weapons and troops.

Speaking on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, he placed security and climate change at the centre stage of the leaders meeting, overshadowing talks on global economic growth.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also said the European Union is considering further financial sanctions against Russian individuals because of the crisis in Ukraine. “At present the listing of further persons is on the agenda.”

Mr Obama said the United States was at the forefront of “opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17”.

Russia denied it was involved in a recent escalation of military activity in Ukraine and supported the implementation of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk in September.

“We are not involved,” said Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov at the G20 meeting.

Meanwhile, Mr Obama also said the United States would renew commitment to its strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific in comments seen as a veiled warning to China. He insisted that Asia’s security order must not be based on “coercion or intimidation . . . where big nations bully the small, but on alliances for mutual security”.

He did not explicitly point the finger at China, but there was little doubt that he was alluding to Beijing’s maritime disputes and concern about its military build-up.