Workers have started to recover the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, as Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin flew home early from a summit at which the West sharply criticised his alleged role in the country's conflict.
Mr Putin cited the long return trip and the need for sleep as he left the G20 gathering in Australia before a closing lunch, and amid US and European condemnation of Moscow’s perceived backing for Ukraine’s separatist rebels.
Kiev and Western powers suspect the militants struck flight MH17 on July 17th with a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. Moscow and the rebels deny involvement and claim a Ukrainian jet shot down the Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.
US president Barack Obama said he had a “business-like and blunt” exchange with Mr Putin, and warned that the West would broaden sanctions on Russia if it did not do more to de-escalate Ukraine’s conflict.
‘Democratic elections’ “One of those principles is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”
European Union foreign ministers are due to discuss Ukraine today in Brussels. More leaders of the insurgency may be added to the sanctions list, but Mr Obama said major new measures were not imminent, because existing restrictions were “biting plenty good”.
Russia’s currency and stock market have slumped in recent weeks, and sliding oil prices have further damaged the country’s energy-led economy.
The EU is divided over the need for more sanctions on Russia, but major member states presented a common front on the Ukraine crisis in Brisbane.
German chancellor Angela Merkel – who on one summit night spent four hours talking with Mr Putin – insisted that there was “close agreement among Europeans about Ukraine and Russia”.
British prime minister David Cameron said: “A very clear message has been delivered by the countries of the European Union and America to Russia about how we’re going to approach this in the months and years ahead. “I think president Putin can see that he is at a crossroads. If he continues to destabilise Ukraine there will be further sanctions.”
Upon meeting Mr Putin in Brisbane, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper said: "I guess I'll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine."
Australian premier Tony Abbot demanded that Russia "fully co-operate with the investigation, the criminal investigation of the downing of MH17, one of the most terrible atrocities of recent times".
Analysis of wreckage
Fighting has prevented international investigators working at the crash site outside Donetsk. Local workers have started to remove wreckage, which will be brought to government-controlled territory and then flown to the Netherlands for analysis.
Mr Putin said discussions on Ukraine at the G20 had been “very honest, meaningful and very helpful”.
He also criticised Ukraine's pro-western leaders for planning to halt funding for rebel-held areas of the country – a move that would force the separatists and their Russian backers to financially support the impoverished region.