THE HAGUE – President Obama and six other world leaders said Monday that they would not meet at the so-called Group of Eight summit in June in Sochi, Russia, and instead would convene at that 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,” deputy national security advisor 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 gathering 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 conflicts 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 were keeping a wary eye on troops amassing near southern and eastern Ukraine, worried that Russia might extend its land grab.
Rhodes said Obama would urge leaders to “stand up to Russian aggression” throughout his weeklong trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia this week. The president is pushing European and G-7 leaders to align behind stronger economic sanctions that would isolate Russia economically, with the goal of pushing Putin into talks.
Rhodes said Russia still had 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 G-7 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 a largely symbolic move but one with bite, given the timing. Russia holds the group’s rotating presidency this year and was 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 exclusion will hurtRussia’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.
Still, there’s limited immediate impact to freezing a country out of the group, and the question remained of how Western leaders planned to use their economic muscle to sway Moscow. European leaders have been divided over imposing severe penalties that might hurt their own fragile economies.
The White House signaled Monday that Obama would push them to prepare to ratchet up economic sanctions to isolate Moscow.
“We would have preferred it not come to this. But Russia’s actions are simply unacceptable. There have to be consequences,” Obama told a Dutch newspaper. “And if Russia continues to escalate the situation, we need to be prepared to impose a greater cost.”
In written answers to questions from the newspaper, Obama tried to shake the Cold War framing. “The United States does not view Europe as a battleground between East and West, nor do we see the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum game,” Obama told de Volkskrant.
“That’s the kind of thinking that should have ended with the Cold War,” he said. “The Ukrainian people do not have to choose between East and West.”