In flurry of diplomatic maneuvering, West moves to isolate Russia over Ukraine dispute

  • Article by: JULIE PACE , Associated Press
  • Updated: March 24, 2014 - 7:05 PM
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President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Hague, Netherlands, March 24, 2014. Obama and international allies prepared to meet Monday in an effort to a develop a strong, united response despite their diverging interests in dealing with the Crimea invasion and the Kremlin.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Seeking to isolate Russia, the U.S. and Western allies declared Monday they are indefinitely cutting Moscow out of a major international coalition and warned they stand ready to order tougher economic penalties if Vladimir Putin presses further into Ukraine.

The moves came amid a flurry of diplomatic jockeying as the West grappled for ways to punish Russia for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and prevent the crisis from escalating.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan met in the Netherlands for an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven. In a joint statement after their 90-minute meeting, the leaders said they were suspending their participation with Russia in the Group of Eight major industrial nations until Moscow "changes course."

The G-7 leaders instead plan to meet this summer in Brussels, symbolically gathering in the headquarters city of the European Union and NATO, two Western organizations that have sought to bolster ties with Ukraine.

"Today, we reaffirm that Russia's actions will have significant consequences," the leaders' statement said. "This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations."

In an unexpected development, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met separately in The Hague with his Ukrainian counterpart, the highest level of contact between the two nations since Russia moved forces into Crimea nearly a month ago. U.S. officials said they welcomed the meeting but challenged Russia to take further steps to de-escalate the conflict.

Lavrov sought to downplay the significance of the West purging Russia from the G-8, describing the economic partnership as an informal club that has been superseded by other international forums.

"If our Western partners believe that such format is no longer needed, let it be so," Lavrov said. "We aren't clinging for that format, and we won't see a big problem if there are no such meetings for a year, or a year-and-half."

Russia's actions have sparked one of Europe's deepest political crises in decades and drawn comparisons to the Cold War era's tensions between East and West. Obama and other Western leaders have condemned Russia's movements and ordered economic sanctions on Putin's close associates, though those punishments appear to have done little to change the Russian president's calculus.

Hours before world leaders began meeting in The Hague, Russian forces stormed a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, the third such action in as many days. Ukraine's fledgling government responded by ordering its troops to pull back from the strategically important peninsula.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Senate moved past a procedural hurdle and toward a vote, possibly late this week, on Russia sanctions and Ukraine aid. In New York, Ukraine pushed for the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a resolution this week reaffirming the country's territorial integrity and declaring that the referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia "has no validity."

In the Hague, the G-7 leaders also discussed plans for increasing financial assistance to Ukraine's central government. And they vowed to launch coordinated sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy if Putin presses into areas of southern and eastern Ukraine.

Among the sectors that could be targeted are Russia's robust energy industry, as well as its banking and defense industries.

U.S. officials said Obama had managed to win support for those potentially bruising sanctions from European leaders, who have been wary of the boomerang impact such penalties could have on their own economies. Russia is one of the European Union's largest trading partners and supplies the continent with significant energy resources.

Officials said the leaders agreed that while energy sanctions could have a negative impact on the global economy, the consequences would be worse for Russia. The leaders also agreed that there were risks in not taking tougher measures, particularly if Russia escalates its incursion elsewhere in the region, officials said.

German officials said they expected a protracted stand-off with Russia over Ukraine, saying they anticipated that a G-8 meeting scheduled to be held in their country next year would also be changed to a G-7.

In another attempt to alienate Russia from the international community, Obama held a separate meeting Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country frequently sides with Moscow in disputes with the West.

The U.S. has been appealing to China's vehement opposition to outside intervention in other nations' domestic affairs and scored a symbolic diplomatic gain when Beijing abstained a week ago from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring Crimea's secession referendum illegal. With Russia vetoing the measure and the 13 other council members voting in favor, China's abstention served to isolate Moscow internationally.

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