Obama urges G7 nations to stand up to Russian ‘aggression’

Summit agenda includes climate change and threats from militant groups


Leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations backed a tough line towards Moscow at the start of a summit in the Bavarian Alps, with US president Barack Obama urging the gathering to stand up to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Host Angela Merkel greeted Mr Obama in the Alpine village of Krün under blue skies, surrounded by locals in traditional dress, drinking beer and eating sausages and pretzels.

The German chancellor was hoping to secure commitments from her G7 guests to tackle global warming ahead of a major United Nations climate summit in Paris in December. The German agenda also foresees discussions on global health issues, from Ebola to antibiotics and tropical diseases.

But the crises in Ukraine and Greece seemed likely to overshadow the discussions at Schloss Elmau, a luxury Alpine hotel near the Austrian border.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking before the start of the summit, voiced exasperation with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who has dismissed the latest aid-for-reform proposal from international creditors as “absurd”.

Russian aggression

Mr Obama said leaders would discuss the global economy, trade partnerships and “standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine“, as well as threats from violent extremism and climate change.

Both he and Dr Merkel highlighted the importance of the German-American relationship, damaged in recent years by revelations of US spying in Germany, including the bugging of the chancellor‘s mobile phone.

“My message to the German people is simple: We are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership,“ said Mr Obama, using the traditional Bavarian greeting “Gruess Gott“ with a crowd gathered in the village square in Krün. “We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world.”

Dr Merkel alluded to “differences“ but described the United States as “our friend“ and an “essential partner“.

British prime minister David Cameron and European Council president Donald Tusk both said they hoped the G7 would present a united front on sanctions towards Russia.

“We need to make sure Europe remains united,” Mr Cameron told reporters after arriving at the summit.

“It (sanctions) has an impact on all countries in terms of putting sanctions on another country. (But) Britain hasn’t let our pre-eminence in financial services get in the way of taking a robust response to Russian-backed aggression and I don’t think other countries should either.”

Ukraine intervention

EU leaders agreed in March that sanctions imposed over Russia‘s intervention in Ukraine would stay until the Minsk ceasefire agreement was fully implemented, effectively extending them to the end of the year, but a formal decision has yet to be taken.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi is known to be sceptical about sanctions and left-wing politicians in Germany have also called for them to be removed.

“If anyone wants to start a discussion about changing the sanctions regime, it could only be about strengthening it,“ said Mr Tusk.

European monitors have blamed a recent upsurge in violence in eastern Ukraine on Russian-backed separatists. Russian President Vladimir Putin was frozen out of what used to be the G8 after Moscow‘s annexation of Crimea last year.

Blocked by protests

Leaders and reporters were shuttled to the summit site by helicopter on Sunday morning as hundreds of protesters blocked the main road to Schloss Elmau.

On Saturday, thousands of anti-G7 protesters marched in the nearby town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. There were sporadic clashes with police and several marchers were taken to hospital with injuries, but the violence was minor compared to some previous summits.

Germany deployed 17,000 police around the former Winter Olympic games venue at the foot of Germany‘s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Another 2,000 were on stand-by across the border in Austria.

In addition to climate and health issues, the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and European Union were due to discuss Islamist militant threats from groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram. The leaders of Nigeria, Tunisia and Iraq were to join them later as part of an “outreach“ group of non-G7 countries.

Dr Merkel was likely to have her work cut out for her on the climate talks. She won plaudits in 2007 when she hosted a G8 meeting on the Baltic coast and convinced Obama‘s predecessor George W. Bush to join other leaders in pledging to fight global warming.

This time, she and Mr Hollande, who will host the climate summit at the end of the year and is keen to generate some momentum for that in Bavaria, were facing resistance from Japan and Canada.

Britain and Europe

Mr Cameron insisted it will be for voters to decide if Britain remains within the European Union after it emerged that 50 of his Tory MPs are poised to lead the campaign for Britain to quit.

He said the renegotiation would “make sure that Europe works in Britain’s interest” but political parties would not seal the UK’s fate in the referendum that follows.

“What we are having is a renegotiation followed by a referendum,” he said. “It’ll be a renegotiation to make sure that Europe works in Britain’s national interest and then the referendum, which won’t be for individual parties to decide, it will be for the British public to decide in an in/ out referendum.”