G7 to tell Putin to stop meddling in Ukraine
Western leaders prepared Thursday to deliver their first face-to-face message to President Vladimir Putin since Moscow seized Crimea -- stop meddling in Ukraine or face tougher sanctions.
Leaders of the Group of Seven industrialised nations head from a two-day summit in Brussels to Paris before travelling to D-Day commemorations in Normandy on Friday where they will rub shoulders with the Russian leader.
"The G7 stands united behind Ukraine, politically and economically," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso at the close of the summit.
"The G7 leaders will convey this message to President Putin."
British Prime Minister David Cameron is to hold a tete-a-tete in Paris with Putin, who will also meet French President Francois Hollande on Thursday evening.
And Friday morning the Russian leader meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
That leaves only Barack Obama off Putin's talks schedule.
In a blunt statement issued after a first day of talks Wednesday, the G7 said Russia should recognise the winner of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko, stop destabilising the country and withdraw Russian troops from the border.
Failing that, the G7 -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the United States -- were ready to "intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures ... should events so require."
Excluded from the G7 talks over Crimea, Putin reached out to the West saying he was ready to meet Ukraine's president-elect Poroshenko, who will also be in Normandy.
"I don't plan to avoid anyone," Putin said.
The Russian president also signalled his willingness to sit down with Obama, but scathingly dismissed US claims of military intervention in Ukraine.
"It is his choice, I am ready for dialogue," Putin said.
Obama has shown little sign he wants to sit down with Putin, having condemned Russia's "dark tactics" in Ukraine in a hawkish speech in Poland reminiscent of Cold War times.
- Continued fighting in east -
In Donetsk, the main city of eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities said they had closed three checkpoints on the border with Russia after nightly assaults by separatists.
The move came as the government vowed to beef up its security presence to counter pro-Russian rebels amid reports of continued fighting in the country's east.
In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev accused the G7 of "cynicism" for backing Ukraine's military operation against pro-Russian insurgents.
"The so-called G7 even talks about the measured actions of the Ukrainian army against its own people," Medvedev told ministers, quoted by the Interfax news agency. "This is cynicism without limit."
But European Council president Herman Van Rompuy dismissed the criticism.
"Everyone has to acknowledge that Ukraine has shown a lot of restraint since the start of the crisis."
- Energy security essential -
The G7 talks were wrapping up Thursday afternoon with a focus on the outlook of the global economy -- where once again there is no escaping the Ukraine crisis.
"The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable," a draft communique on Thursday's session reads.
"The crisis in Ukraine makes plain that energy security must be at the centre of our collective agenda."
The European Union depends on Russia for about 30 percent of its gas supplies, with half of that transiting via Ukraine.
Russia turned off the taps in 2006 and 2009 in previous disputes with Ukraine, causing huge disruption in Europe, and has threatened to do so again if Kiev does not pay its bills.
The answer has to be a "step change" in policy, leading to diversification of supply to reduce dependence on Russian gas and also to help meet climate change goals.
While the Ukraine crisis dominates the headlines, the broader economic outlook remains a central concern even if the worst of the fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis is easing.
"Supporting jobs and growth remains our top priority," the G7 draft said, noting that unemployment remains stubbornly high despite some improvement in the overall economy.
© 2014 AFP