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Brussels (AFP) – Western leaders come face-to-face with President Vladimir Putin in Paris on Thursday for the first time since Russia seized Crimea, after a blunt G7 warning that Moscow must stop destabilizing Ukraine or face further sanctions.

Most of the leaders gathered for this week’s Group of Seven summit in Brussels will be heading to Paris ahead of Friday’s D-Day commemorations in Normandy, where they will rub shoulders with the Russian president.

Excluded from the G7 talks over Crimea, Putin on Wednesday reached out to the West saying he was ready to meet Ukraine’s president-elect, Petro Poroshenko.

“I don’t plan to avoid anyone,” Putin said.

The Russian president also signaled his willingness to sit down with U.S. President Barack Obama, but scathingly dismissed claims of military intervention in Ukraine.

“It is his choice, I am ready for dialogue,” Putin said, before launching into a jibe about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

“Proof? Let’s see it!” he said. “The entire world remembers the U.S. secretary of state demonstrating the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the UN Security Council.”

Obama has shown little sign he wants to sit down with Putin, having condemned Russia’s “dark tactics” in Ukraine in a hawkish speech in Poland reminiscent of Cold War times.

French President Francois Hollande, who will meet the Russian and U.S. leaders separately in Paris, has said “dialogue and deescalation must be encouraged”.

Putin is also slated to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he would deliver a similar message of dialogue.

After talks Wednesday, a Group of Seven statement said Russia must recognize the results of Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election, won by tycoon Petro Poroshenko, stop destabilizing the country and withdraw Russian troops from the border.

Failing that, the G7 — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the United States — were ready to “intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures … should events so require.”

Merkel, however, tempered the message by saying European leaders would “take stock” of Russian actions at an end-June summit.

She said “the main thing is to be constructive,” with further sanctions only if there is “no progress whatsoever.”

The G7 talks wrap up Thursday afternoon with a focus on the outlook of the global economy — where once again there is no escaping the Ukraine crisis.

“The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable,” a draft communique on Thursday’s session reads.

“The crisis in Ukraine makes plain that energy security must be at the center of our collective agenda,” it said.

The European Union depends on Russia for about 30 percent of its gas supplies, with half of that transiting via Ukraine.

Russia turned off the taps in 2006 and 2009 in previous disputes with Ukraine, causing huge disruption in Europe, and has threatened to do so again if Kiev does not pay its bills.

The answer has to be a “step change” in policy, leading to diversification of supply to reduce dependence on Russian gas and also to help meet climate change goals.

While the Ukraine crisis dominates the headlines, the broader economic outlook remains a central concern even if the worst of the fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis is easing.

“Supporting jobs and growth remains our top priority,” the G7 draft said, noting that unemployment remains stubbornly high despite some recovery.

Strengthening the financial sector, curbing tax evasion and securing major free trade agreements all have their part to play in keeping the economy on track, the draft said.

“We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight all forms of protectionism,” it added.

AFP Photo/Maxim Shipenkov

President Trump and former Vice President Biden at first 2020 presidential debate

Screenshot from C-Span YouTube

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?