World Leaders Will Exclude Putin From Summit Meeting

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR, ALISON SMALE and DAVID M. HERSZENHORNMARCH 24, 2014
Photo

THE HAGUE — President Obama and the leaders of the biggest Western economies agreed on Monday to exclude President Vladimir V. Putin from the Group of 8, suspending his government’s 15-year participation in the diplomatic forum and further isolating his country.

In a joint statement after a two-hour, closed-door meeting of the four largest economies in Europe, along with Japan and Canada, the leaders of the seven nations announced that a summit meeting planned for Sochi, Russia, in June will now be held in Brussels — without Russia’s participation.

“This group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them,” the statement said. “Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit. We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course.”

“We remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation,” the leaders’ statement said. Such sanctions could have an outsized impact on European economies that have close trade and investment ties to Russia.

Before the meeting, other leaders also indicated that Russia’s actions had now left the country on the outside of the group. British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that “we should be clear there’s not going to be a G-8 summit this year in Russia. That’s absolutely clear.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a similar clue that the group might shed Russia in a speech to the German parliament last week, saying that “so long as the political context” is absent, “then the G-8 no longer exists, either as a summit or as a format.”

Last week, she stressed that “we are ready at any time to introduce phase-3 measures if there is a worsening of the situation,” referring to the so-called third stage of sanctions — tough economic measures that would likely hurt German business as well as Russia.

Early Monday, Mr. Obama expressed solidarity with Ukraine. “Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” he said after touring the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister.

Mr. Obama made his remarks while standing in front of “The Night Watch,” Rembrandt’s depiction of a group of 17th-century militiamen, calling it “easily the most impressive backdrop I’ve had for a news conference.”

“We’re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “the growing sanctions would bring significant consequences to the Russian economy.”

For now, the costs were being felt more by Ukraine. Even as Mr. Obama and other world leaders gathered, Russian forces seized another Ukrainian military base in Crimea, which Russia has declared as annexed.

At a news conference, Vladyslav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, declined to say what order the forces had been given. He also said he did not know how many Ukrainians had gone over to Russia’s side.

The Ukrainian military’s humiliating retreat has delivered a damaging blow to the country’s fragile interim government in Kiev, piling further pressure on a leadership already struggling to assert its authority and find money to pay salaries and pensions and keep the country running.

“The situation is very complicated,” Oleksandr Sych, vice prime minister, told a news conference in Kiev, as Mr. Obama and other leaders met in The Netherlands. “We are just thinking about how to survive for the next few months. The treasury is empty but we have to somehow survive.”

The Ukraine crisis overshadowed Mr. Obama’s scheduled four-day trip, a centerpiece of which was a summit meeting on Monday on nuclear security with 52 other world leaders.

Beforehand, Mr. Obama met with President Xi Jinping of China. Mr. Obama told reporters that the two would discuss climate change, the situation in Ukraine and efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. He also said that he planned to raise with Mr. Xi issues that have added to tensions between China and the United States in recent years.

Mr. Obama said the two leaders would use the meeting to “work through frictions that exist in our relations around issues like human rights, in dealing with maritime issues in the South China Sea and the Pacific region, in a way that is constructive and hopefully will lead to resolutions.”

He added that he intended to talk about economic issues and trade in the hopes of making sure that “we are both abiding by the rules that allow for us to create jobs and prosperity in both of our countries.”

Speaking with an English translator, Mr. Xi told Mr. Obama that there was “greater space where China and the United States are cooperating” and thanked Mr. Obama for expressing sympathy over the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, which had 154 passengers from China or Taiwan on board, and for American help in the search for the plane.

He also said that he wants to pursue what he called a “major power relationship” with the United States, something that Mr. Obama had suggested in a recent letter to Mr. Xi.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will leave the Netherlands for a daylong summit meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels and to discuss the situation in Russia with the Secretary General of NATO. While in Brussels, Mr. Obama will deliver a speech that aides said would be heavily influenced by Mr. Putin’s recent actions and the threat they pose to Europe.

Mr. Obama will fly to Rome on Thursday for a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. Aides said the president was eager to discuss the pope’s “commitment to address issues like income inequality,” a subject that Mr. Obama has sought to highlight as an election-year issue at home. But veteran observers of the Vatican said the pope might use the opportunity to discuss other issues as well, including abortion, religious liberty and contraception.

The final scheduled stop on Mr. Obama’s trip is a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Michael D. Shear and Alison Smale reported from The Hague, and David M. Herszenhorn from Simferopol, Crimea. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Berlin.