By Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — President Barack Obama and six other world leaders said Monday they will not meet in the so-called Group of Eight forum at a scheduled June summit in Sochi, Russia, but instead will convene at the same time in Brussels without Russia to discuss the “broad agenda we have together.”
Obama called the meeting of the G-7 nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan — as a way to snub Moscow and devise a unified response to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from stirring up political trouble in Ukraine or ordering further incursions.
The leaders issued a statement condemning Russia for its “illegal attempt to annex Crimea” and warned that if Russia escalates the situation it would face coordinated sanctions against particular segments of its economy “that will have an increasingly significant impact.”
“Our view is simply that as long as Russia is flagrantly violating international law and the order the G-7 has helped to build since the end of the Cold War there’s no need for the G-7 to engage with Russia,” said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said. “They’re outside the rules of the road.”
The leaders gathered in The Hague for a summit on nuclear security. But the dispute over Crimea and the repercussions for Russia quickly dominated the conversations. As the leaders descended on the city, Russian forces were consolidating their hold on military sites in the strategically important peninsula.
The fault lines of the dispute were clear at the nuclear summit of more than 50 world leaders. As the G-7 prepared for its meeting, a group of emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa _ also met on the sidelines. The so-called BRICS nations issued a statement disavowing sanctions on Russia and urging nations to resolve their conflict at the United Nations. The current approach does not “contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution,” the group said in a statement.
U.S and NATO officials said they had a wary eye on troops amassing near southern and eastern Ukraine, worrying Russia might extend its land grab.
Rhodes said the president will urge leaders to “stand up to Russian aggression” throughout his weeklong trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia this week. Obama is pushing European and G-7 leaders to align behind stronger economic sanctions that would isolate Russia economically — aiming to push Putin to talks.
Rhodes said that Russia still has a chance to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. “The door is open for Russia to de-escalate the situation,” he said.
Russia formally joined the other seven industrialized nations to create the Group of Eight in 1998, a move that was viewed as a crucial step toward economic integration with the West in the post-Cold War era.
Cutting Russia off from the group is largely a symbolic move, but one with extra bite, given the timing. Russia holds the group’s rotating presidency this year and was slated to host the annual summit in Sochi.
The event was expected to draw the world’s attention back to the resort town Putin helped develop for this year’s Winter Olympics as a showcase for Russia’s modern status and influence.
The change in its G-status will harm Russia’s reputation, said Matthew P. Goodman, a political economist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House point person at G-8 and other international summits.
“Russia’s inclusion is an acknowledgment of their transition to a new system of governance and their importance on the world stage,” said Goodman. “To take it away from them would be very harmful.”
The threat to its global standing could have an impact if it cuts into Russia’s ability to shape world events, said Goodman.
“In concrete terms, there are a number of things discussed in the G-8 that they have an immediate interest in, from economic prosperity to political tensions in Syria,” Goodman said. “In addition to status and prestige, it brings them some concrete benefit in terms of being able to shape issues on a global level.”
For that reason, he said, the G-7 nations also are taking a risk by threatening Russia’s status in their group. Putin could play a considerable role in talks with Iran and Syria and in the effort to limit financing for terrorists.
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb