The European Union condemned Russia’s role in fueling violence in eastern Ukraine and called on world leaders meeting in Brussels to maintain pressure on the Kremlin to de-escalate the conflict.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy, who will attend the two-day summit of Group of Seven leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that Russia must stop armed militants from crossing into Ukraine. He warned that further sanctions on Russia had not been ruled out.
“We call on Russia to cooperate with the elected and legitimate president” of Ukraine “and contribute actively to de-escalation efforts, notably through the withdrawal of its troops from the border,” Van Rompuy told reporters today. “By not addressing these issues, Russia is contributing to the increase of violence in the eastern regions.”
G-7 leaders are gathering in Brussels to discuss their latest response to the crisis in Ukraine amid rounds of diplomacy aimed at easing the tension. Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with at least three of the G-7 participants this week, culminating in his appearance at a D-Day commemoration on Friday which Obama and Ukraine’s President-elect Petro Poroshenko will also attend.
“I’m ready for dialogue,” Putin said in an excerpt of an interview with French radio Europe 1 and the TF1 television channel posted on Europe 1’s website today.
The two-day G-7 gathering replaces a planned summit of Group of Eight leaders, including Putin, that was due to take place in Sochi, the Russian site of the Winter Olympics. It was boycotted by the G-7 in March following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Leaders, who are scheduled to discuss Ukraine during a working dinner that begins at about 8:15 p.m., may also discuss Russia’s future membership of the G-8 club, which has reverted to its Cold War-era format since Putin’s suspension.
“It’s only a suspension; it’s not a permanent exclusion,” Van Rompuy said. “The question of when or if Russia can return to the G-8 is still premature. It will be for the G-7 leaders to agree on when and if Russia has sufficiently changed its course and when and if the environment has returned to a situation where the G-8 can have a meaningful discussion.”
The U.S. and the EU, which have imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 98 people and 20 companies, say Russia is behind continuing unrest in eastern Ukraine that Ukraine’s prosecutor general says has seen 181 people killed since unrest broke out.
While the EU favors a “diplomatic solution,” broader economic sanctions are still on the table, Van Rompuy said.
“Should events so require, preparatory work by the European Commission and the European External Action Service on possible further targeted measures is under way and will continue,” he said.
An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters in Brussels yesterday that while the G-7 might push ahead with further sanctions, a decision was unlikely this week.
“If we have to, then we will,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told Bloomberg Television in London yesterday when asked whether Britain would support further sanctions. “We are ready, we are always ready, in the U.K. and, I think, across the European Union as a whole, to impose more far-reaching sanctions on Russia if it is necessary. We hope that’s not necessary; we hope that we will find ways to reduce tensions.”
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will travel to Paris from Brussels tomorrow to meet with Putin who will later hold talks over dinner with French President Francois Hollande. Obama, who is also due in Paris tomorrow, will be treated to a separate dinner with Hollande. Merkel will then have a one-on-one meeting with the Russian leader in Normandy, where commemorations will be held to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings of 1944 that changed the course of World War II.
In Brussels tomorrow, the second day of the summit will be devoted to economic and trade matters, energy and climate change, and development issues. The meeting will give Obama and EU leaders an opportunity to discuss the state of negotiations on the proposed U.S.-EU free trade arrangement, the EU official said.
The G-7 comprises the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.