West agrees to isolate Russia over Ukraine dispute

Standing at Rembrandt’s “The Nightwatch” in Amsterdam President Obama expressed solidarity with Ukraine.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
Standing at Rembrandt’s “The Nightwatch” in Amsterdam President Obama expressed solidarity with Ukraine.

THE HAGUE — President Obama and the leaders of the biggest Western economies agreed Monday to exclude President Vladimir 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.

“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.”


The move by the group, its first face-to-face gathering since Russia’s lightning-quick annexation of the Crimea a month ago, was intended as another signal of the West’s condemnation of Russia’s actions. Leaders said it represented only part of a series of punishments that might still escalate if Russia refuses to turn back its aggressions, the statement said.

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In particular, the countries agreed to consider broader sanctions against large sectors of the Russian economy. Obama had signaled last week that the United States was prepared to take such a move, and officials said his decision to call a meeting of the G-8 countries was in part intended to persuade them to do the same.

Obama and other Western leaders have condemned Russia’s movements as a violation of international law and have ordered economic sanctions on Putin’s close associates, though those punishments appear to have done little to change the Russian leaders’ calculus.

In Washington on Monday, the Senate moved toward approval of Russian sanctions and $1 billion in loan guarantees for the Ukrainian government. It moved the measure forward in a 78-to-17 test vote, clearing the 60-vote threshold needed to bring the bill to a final vote.

Republicans have objected to a section of the Senate measure that would ratify proposed changes in the International Monetary Fund, which would allow the lending body to shift some $63 billion from a crisis fund to a general account it can use for economic stabilization programs around the world.


That provision is not included in the Ukraine bill passed by the Republican-controlled House. Republicans have long spurned the administration’s attempt to ratify the IMF changes, saying they would increase the exposure of US taxpayers in foreign bailouts managed by the fund

At the United Nations, Ukraine pushed for the General Assembly to adopt a resolution, possibly on Thursday, reaffirming the country’s territorial integrity and declaring that the referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia ‘‘has no validity.’’

In their statement Monday, the Western leaders meeting in The Hague said, “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.”

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 of Germany 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 probably hurt German business as well as Russia.

Early Monday, 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. 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,” Obama said, adding that “the growing sanctions would bring significant consequences to the Russian economy.”