Russian President Vladimir Putin was kept out of the summit of world leaders but dominated the meeting as President Barack Obama and his counterparts from the G-7 group of major economies sought the Kremlin chief’s renewed cooperation to end the Ukraine crisis.
French President Francois Hollande said the meeting held on Wednesday sent a clear signal of unity by urging Russia to help stabilise the situation in Ukraine, while keeping the threat of further sanctions on the table.
In faraway Moscow, Mr. Putin seemed to shrug off the snub of having not been invited to Brussels, but declared he was still open to “dialogue”.
In March, the U.S. and its most important allies retaliated for Mr. Putin’s military occupation and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by suspending Russia’s membership in what had been the G-8 club of rich countries.
They also nixed Mr. Putin’s plan to hold the meeting in Sochi, the city Russia lavished billions on to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Around the dinner table in Brussels, “there were seven of us, not eight,” Mr. Hollande said afterward.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy urged Russia to recognise the results of Ukraine’s recent presidential poll, complete the withdrawal of its troops on the border with Ukraine and stop the flow of weapons and militants.
“We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia, should events so require,” the leaders warned.
But the tough language couldn’t hide the fact that many U.S. allies, especially the Europeans, have shifted their focus toward re-engaging with Mr. Putin since Russia has refrained from a full-blown invasion of Ukraine and started pulling back its troops.
Mr. Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Ms. Merkel are all planning to hold talks with the Russian President in France during ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week.
Mr. Obama, however, has no plans to meet with Mr. Putin — a clear indication the U.S. is more reluctant than its European peers about renewing the dialogue.
The meeting was not expected to produce any major decisions. Many observers criticise the format as being mostly a talking shop since the role of setting rules for global economic governance in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis has shifted to the wider Group of 20, which also includes emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.