Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to cut short his attendance at G20 summit in Australia, an official said today, after he faced Western scorn and scepticism over Ukraine despite venturing to paper over Europe’s deepest chill in relations since the Cold War.
The abrupt decision threatens to upend the annual summit’s focus on revamping the global economy and addressing the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.
“The programme of the second day (Sunday) is changing, it’s being cut short,” a source in the Russian delegation told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Putin will attend summit sessions on Sunday but will skip an official lunch and address reporters earlier than planned, the source said, adding: “Lunch is more of an entertainment.”
But the Kremlin, mindful that Putin’s exit might further stoke tensions, quickly moved to quash speculation that the Russian strongman was leaving early and that “no one is putting pressure”.
“The G20 summit will be over tomorrow (Sunday), Putin will certainly leave it, when all the work is completed the president will leave,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Russian radio.
The Group of 20 nations, which includes the United States and China, found agreement in vowing to “extinguish” the Ebola outbreak — albeit without any promise of hard cash — as it worked to reboot growth in the world economy after the shock of the 2008 financial crisis.
But Ukraine is the most pressing test of the club’s ability to marry its economic heft to diplomatic troubleshooting, given the Cold War-style divisions between Russia and the West exposed by the former Soviet satellite’s separatist crisis.
Today, in a further acknowledgement that the Kremlin-backed statelets in Ukraine are effectively breaking away, President Petro Poroshenko issued a decree ordering the withdrawal of all state services from rebel-held eastern regions.
And officials said five civilians, including two children, and three more Ukrainian soldiers died in the latest fighting north of Donetsk yesterday.
There was no immediate comment from the G20’s Australian hosts or other delegations such as US President Barack Obama’s to Putin’s decision to leave early, which came after some testy exchanges in Brisbane today.