Western leaders come face-to-face with President Vladimir Putin in Paris Thursday for the first time since Russia seized Crimea, after a blunt G7 warning that Moscow must stop destabilising Ukraine or face further sanctions.
Most of the leaders gathered for this week’s Group of Seven summit in Brussels will be heading to Paris ahead of Friday’s D-Day commemorations in Normandy, where they will rub shoulders with the Russian president.
Excluded from the G7 talks over Crimea, Putin on Wednesday reached out to the West saying he was ready to meet Ukraine’s president-elect, Petro Poroshenko.
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“I don’t plan to avoid anyone,” Putin said.
The Russian president also signalled his willingness to sit down with US President Barack Obama, but scathingly dismissed claims of military intervention in Ukraine.
“It is his choice, I am ready for dialogue,” Putin said, before launching into a jibe about the US invasion of Iraq.
“Proof? Let’s see it!” he said. “The entire world remembers the US secretary of state demonstrating the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the UN Security Council.”
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.
French President Francois Hollande, who will meet the Russian and US leaders separately in Paris, has said “dialogue and deescalation must be encouraged”.
Putin is also slated to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he would deliver a similar message of dialogue.
After talks Wednesday, a Group of Seven statement said Russia must recognise the results of Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election, won by 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.”
Merkel, however, tempered the message by saying European leaders would “take stock” of Russian actions at an end-June summit.
She said “the main thing is to be constructive,” with further sanctions only if there is “no progress whatsoever.”