Russia suspended from G8 in show of unity

Obama says US and Europe united on ‘imposing a cost’ on Russia over Ukraine

Russia was yesterday excluded from the influential G8 group of nations in a show of unity by the leaders of the world's economically most powerful nations against the Kremlin following its incursion into Ukraine.

Following a meeting on the fringes of the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague convened by US president Barack Obama, the leaders of the G7 countries agreed to suspend the G8 formation but stopped short of expelling Russia permanently.

In a joint statement the leaders said they were suspending their participation in the G8 “until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G8 is able to have a meaningful discussion”.

Sochi summit relocated
Earlier in the day British prime minister David Cameron had confirmed June's G8 summit in Sochi was cancelled, with the summit to take place in Brussels instead.

The decision to effectively suspend Russia, even temporarily, could prove sensitive for Germany, which is due to host the G8 next year.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who represented Russia at the summit, earlier brushed off the cancellation of the Sochi summit, saying that while the G8 has been useful to discuss global crises, such as the Iran nuclear stand-off and Syria, Moscow "will not be clinging to this format". Mr Lavrov met Ukrainian foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia yesterday for the first time since the usurpation of Mr Yanukovich.

The G7 group includes the US, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy. The group expanded to a G8 format to include Russia in 1998, while the European Union is also technically a member, with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso and the head of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy present at yesterday's meeting.

Co-ordinated sanctions
In a communiqué issued after the meeting yesterday evening, the G7 group said it remained ready to "intensify actions including co-ordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation. "

“We remind Russia of its international obligations, and its responsibilities including those for the world economy. Russia has a clear choice to make. Diplomatic avenues to de-escalate the situation remain open, and we encourage the Russian government to take them, “ the joint statement said.

Earlier in the day, US president Barack Obama said Europe and the US were united in their response to the situation in Ukraine. Arriving in Amsterdam for the first day of his four-day tour of Europe, the US president emphasised the links between the two blocs.

"Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people," Mr Obama said after meeting Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam. "We're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far."

Bilateral discussions
To date, the US has imposed tougher sanctions on Russia than the EU, in part reflecting the latter's higher dependence on Russian trade and energy. The US president will visit Nato headquarters in Brussels tomorrow, and hold meetings with the heads of the European Commission and EU Council.

President Obama also held bilateral discussions with Chinese president Xi Jinping yesterday.

Further targeted sanctions by the EU and US against Russia did not feature in yesterday’s discussion, though it is understood some countries were pushing for non-EU and US states to consider restrictive actions against Russia.

Earlier, Japan agreed to hand over sensitive nuclear material to the US for disposal, following a meeting between Mr Obama and Japanese premier Minister Shinzo Abe.

While Japan has long insisted it has no interest in developing nuclear weapons, China has raised concerns about its neighbour's plutonium stocks.