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of the West purging Russia from the G-8, describing the economic partnership as an informal club that has been superseded by other international forums.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.”
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.
The scheduled purpose for Obama’s long-planned trip to the Netherlands was the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, an international forum the president created during his first term that focuses on eliminating or securing the world’s nuclear materials. While the nuclear talks were overshadowed by the dispute with Russia, Obama did score a key victory on that front Monday when Japan announced that it was turning over to the U.S. a portion of its weapons-grade plutonium and highly-enriched uranium stockpiles.