Putin leaves G20 early, promises to work to end Ukraine crisis

G20 unveils plans to grow economies and to support action on climate change

Russian president Vladimir Putin today said there was a "good chance" of resolving the conflict in Ukraine as Western leaders squarely blamed Moscow and threatened to slap more sanctions if it did not take action to end the crisis.

Mr Putin was speaking at a G20 leaders summit in Brisbane where he has come under intense pressure, with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper telling him to "get out of Ukraine".

The leaders of the United States, Japan and Australia vowed to oppose Russian aggression, and European leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel have warned of more sanctions unless Russia withdraws troops and weapons from Ukraine and ends its support for pro-Russian separatist rebels.

The crisis has taken relations between Russia and the West a post-Cold War low.


Sanctions aimed at sectors like oil and banking, as well as individuals close to Mr Putin, are squeezing Russia’s economy at a time when falling oil prices are straining the budget and the rouble has plunged on financial markets.

Dr Merkel declined to reveal the contents of a meeting she had today with Russian Mr Putin over the crisis in Ukraine, saying the discussion was confidential.

Elsewhere at the summit, the United States and other nations overrode host Australia’s attempts to keep climate change off the formal agenda.

The communique at the end of the meeting will include a significant passage on climate change, EU officials said.

Russia has denied any involvement in the conflict in Ukraine that has killed more than 4,000 people this year.

“Today the situation (in Ukraine) in my view has good chances for resolution, no matter how strange it may sound, but certain structures had been established on both sides that could handle the tasks they are facing better,” Mr Putin told reporters before he left Brisbane ahead of the formal ending of the summit.

US president Barack Obama, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe lined up together against Russia today, vowing to oppose what they called Moscow's efforts to destabilise eastern Ukraine.

Speaking after a rare trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit, the three said they would oppose “Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea and its actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine”, and were committed to “bringing to justice those responsible for the downing of Flight MH17.”

The Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down over Ukraine earlier this year.

Mr Obama is due to meet European leaders to discuss Ukraine later in the day and EU foreign ministers will meet tomorrow to consider further steps, including additional possible sanctions on Russia.

Security and climate change have overshadowed G20 talks on boosting flagging global economic growth at the summit.

“The most difficult discussion was on climate change,” an EU official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “This was really trench warfare, this was really step by step by step. In the end we have references to most of the things we wanted.”

As world leaders debated how to tackle climate change, environmental protesters outside the summit venue sweltered in the scorching heat of the Australian summer.

Australia, one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters per capita, had argued climate change was not a clear economic issue and should not be discussed at the G20.

Mr Abbott has questioned the science behind climate change and abolished a tax on carbon emissions and plans for an emissions trading scheme in July.

The EU official said the climate change passage included practical measures and a reference to the Green Climate Fund, which Mr Obama committed $3 billion to yesterday, and Japan pledged $1.5 billion today.

The United States and Europe led the push to have climate change discussed at the meeting, with Mr Obama using a speech yesterday to warn that Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef was under threat.

Asked today if he accepted that climate change was potentially one of the biggest impediments to global economic growth, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said: “No. No I don’t. Absolutely not.”

“Australia is doing the same amount of work on climate change as the United States over a 30-year period. Frankly, what we’re focused on is growth and jobs.”

EU officials said the communique, likely to be three pages, down from 27 last year, would also include an anti-corruption action plan. China had agreed to a G20 deal aimed at cracking down on companies masking their ownership, after initial concerns about the proposal, the EU official said.

A working group at the Group of 20 lead by Australia has been seeking agreement on how to improve beneficial ownership transparency and combat the use of shell companies that can hide ill-gotten money or avoid taxation.