G7 leaders to hold talks on Ukraine, isolate Russia
G7 leaders will hold talks on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague on Monday (24 March) to consider their response to Russia annexing Crimea, isolating Moscow, which is due to take over the rotating G8 presidency.
Since the emergency 1-hour meeting was announced last Tuesday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has signed laws completing Russia's annexation of the peninsula on the Black Sea and his troops seized a Ukrainian airbase there.
In what has become the biggest confrontation between the East and West since the Cold War, the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions targeting some of his closest political and business allies. But it was unclear whether they went far enough to influence Moscow in restraining Putin.
At The Hague, the G7 will probably discuss how to exert further pressure and at what potential cost.
"It will be an opportunity for us to explain to each other what we are doing and where we are going, to coordinate our actions," a senior EU official said.
Western governments are struggling to find a balance between putting pressure on Putin, protecting their own economies and avoiding triggering a vicious cycle of sanctions and reprisals.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is making his residence available to US President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, Britain, Canada, France, Japan and Italy for the talks, said the West might want to move slowly.
"Russia has an economy that is highly focused on oil and gas," Rutte told Reuters. "It is not diversified ... If it came to putting in place sanctions that would hurt Russia considerably. So in my view we should do everything to prevent that."
US officials say any further sanctions will need to be carefully calibrated to avoid bans on entire sectors, like oil or metals, which could impact the global economy. Europe gets nearly one-third of its oil and gas from Russia.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an article on Saturday, however, that Britain and its allies should consider imposing lasting limitations on arms sales to Russia, following the "outrageous" annexation of Crimea.
In talks on Monday, Obama faces a test on whether he can bring along European allies to increase the pressure on Russia.
He has threatened US sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy. European allies have far closer economic ties to Russia than the United States, and their still-fragile economies could face a backlash by getting tough with Moscow.
Russia provides almost a third of the EU's gas needs. Some 40 percent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine.
European diplomats said it was unlikely any detailed decisions about sanctions would be taken at the meeting, although the group is likely to send a message of support for Kiev, particularly referring to Ukraine's battered economy.
But officials in Washington said Obama is prepared to launch widespread penalties against key sectors of Russia's economy, such as its energy industry, should Putin move into southern or eastern Ukraine.
G8 in limbo
NATO's top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had built up a "very sizeable" force on its border with Ukraine and may have a region in another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova, in its sights.
Also on the agenda will be the upcoming meeting of G8 nations in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in June, when Moscow is due to take over the rotating G8 presidency.
The G7 leaders have suspended preparations for that, and Britain has warned that Russia could face permanent exclusion from the group if it takes further steps against Ukraine.
Russia became the eighth member of the elite group of industrialised nations in 1998, after trying to gain full membership since its inception in 1975.
A French diplomatic source said the leaders will "discuss how this group can or cannot continue to function".
"There will certainly be a statement published at the end, which will reflect the consensus on the evaluation of the situation and on how this group can respond to the situation created in Ukraine," the source said, on condition of anonymity.
Losing its G8 place would be embarrassing to Putin, and a major departure for the West, in its efforts to draw Russia into its policymaking efforts.
"The G8 is dead, though I don't think anybody wants to say that," one EU diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The point that everybody will want to make is that we are all united."
Russian troops take Ukrainian marine base
Meanwhile, Russian troops took over a Ukrainian marine base in Feodosia early on Monday, one of the few military facilities that was still flying a Ukrainian flag in Crimea after Russia's annexation, a Ukrainian serviceman said.
Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea, earlier said Russian forces had been forcing their way in and were assisted by helicopters.
European leaders agreed late last week at a EU summit in Brussels to broaden the list of Ukrainians and Russians whose assets will be frozen and freedom of movement in the EU restricted as a response to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula, bringing the number to 33. A so-called "third stage" of sanctions is now also in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, US President Obama announced from Washington that the Americans had added 20 new officials to its sanctions list, including Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov.
24-25 March: Nuclear Security Summit in the The Hague.
26 March: EU-US summit.
25 May: Presidential elections in Ukraine.