THE HAGUE/FEODOSIA, Crimea: U.S. President Barack Obama and major industrialized allies warned Monday that Russia faced damaging economic sanctions if President Vladimir Putin takes further action to destabilize Ukraine following the seizure of Crimea.
Leaders of the Group of Seven, meeting without Russia, agreed to hold their own summit this year instead of attending a planned G-8 meeting in the Russian Olympic venue of Sochi, along the Black Sea coast from Crimea, and to suspend their participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course.
On a day when Kiev ordered its remaining troops to withdraw from Crimea and Russian forces used force to capture a marine base and a landing ship, leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan and Canada condemned what they described as “Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law.”
They also agreed to work together to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.
“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,” they said in a joint statement.
The G-7 leaders, who met on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague, said they would meet again in Brussels in early June, the first time since Russia joined the G-8 in 1998 that it will have been shut out of the annual summit of leading industrialized democracies.
Obama, who has imposed tougher sanctions on Moscow than European leaders over its takeover of the strategic peninsula, told reporters: “Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to play down the G-8 boycott, however.
“If our Western partners believe the format has exhausted itself, we don’t cling to this format. We don’t believe it will be a big problem if it doesn’t convene,” he told reporters.
Obama also discussed the crisis at a meeting in The Hague with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has voiced support for Ukraine’s sovereignty but refrained from criticizing Russia. The West wants Beijing’s diplomatic support in an effort to restrain Putin, but while Xi called for a political solution, he did not harden China’s position toward Moscow. White House officials accompanying Obama expressed concern Monday at what they said was a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine and warned that any further military intervention would trigger wider sanctions than the measures taken so far.
A U.S. official said Moscow had 20,000 soldiers near the border. Russian intervention in eastern or southern Ukraine would be the clearest trigger for additional sanctions – as would violence in Crimea, another U.S. official said.
Earlier Monday, Russian troops forced their way into a Ukrainian marine base in the port of Feodosia, overrunning one of the final symbols of resistance, and later stormed and captured a Ukrainian landing ship, firing warning shots and stun grenades. No casualties were reported in either incident.
In Kiev, acting president Oleksander Turchinov told parliament the remaining Ukrainian troops and their families would be pulled out of the region in the face of “threats to the lives and health of our service personnel.”
That effectively ended Ukrainian resistance, less than a month since Putin claimed Russia’s right to intervene militarily on its neighbor’s territory.
In one sign of a possible easing of tension, Lavrov agreed to hold a first meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsya, on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit.
The first 50 out of 100 observers dispatched by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security watchdog, arrived in Ukraine Monday to monitor potential trouble spots and report back to the 54-nation organization. Russia relented late last week and agreed on a mandate after prolonged talks, but the monitors will not be allowed to enter Crimea.