President Obama vowed Russia would “pay a price” for its annexation of Crimea as he kicked off a week of talks with European leaders focused largely on the crisis in Ukraine.
The president and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte briefly addressed the press following bilateral talks and a tour of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national art museum.
Obama noted that he and other leaders of the Group of Eight — minus representatives from the Kremlin — will meet later Monday, and are expected to consider permanently expelling Russia from the economic group. The world leaders are also expected to discuss additional economic penalties for Russia in response to its aggression in the region.
“Prime Minister Rutte rightly pointed out yesterday the growing sanctions would bring significant consequences to the Russian economy,” Obama said. “And I’ll be meeting with my fellow G-7 leaders later today, and we’ll continue to coordinate closely with the Netherlands and our European partners as we go forward.”
Rutte said both leaders saw Russia’s moves in Crimea “as a flagrant breach of international law, and we condemn its actions in the strongest possible terms.”
“The presence of so many world leaders in the Netherlands this week presents an important opportunity for the international community to discuss this subject, as well as other pressing issues that affect our common interests,” Rutte said.
In addition to Ukraine, the leaders discussed a transatlantic trade deal, negotiations with Iran over ending its nuclear weapons program and efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The leaders also announced that the Netherlands was joining the U.S. and other countries in an effort to stop the international funding of new coal-fired power plants by development banks.
“We’re pleased that the Netherlands has joined our initiative that will virtually end all public financing for coal-fired plants abroad,” Obama said. “It’s concrete action like this that can keep making progress on reducing emissions while we develop new global agreements on climate change.”
The statements, which came ahead of an international nuclear summit at the Hague, were staged in front of “The Night Watch,” the colossal and world-renowned painting by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn.
Obama said he was “proud to be with some of the Dutch masters who I studied in school.”
“Of all the press conferences I’ve done, this is easily the most impressive backdrop that I’ve had to a press conference,” he said.
Before landing in Amsterdam, Obama took questions from the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant about the crisis in Ukraine.
“In all my discussions with European leaders, my message will be that Russia needs to understand the economic and political consequences of its actions in Ukraine,” Obama told the paper, according to a translation by McClatchy. “We simply cannot have countries violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations. We cannot have countries purporting to annex parts of independent nations. The international law and principles at the heart of our international system have to mean something.”
In the interview, Obama defended his penchant for preferring diplomatic solutions to international crises over the threat of military force.
“Many of today’s security challenges don’t have a military solution,” Obama said. “More often, strong and principled diplomacy can give us the best opportunity for achieving lasting solutions that advance our interests and our values. And our diplomacy has to be in concert with other nations because the most pressing international challenges cannot be met by any one nation alone.”
The newspaper said that Obama ignored questions, which were submitted in writing, on how he could fight perceptions that U.S. is no longer feared by its opponents on the international stage. The president also declined to answer questions about the possibility of Ukraine or Georgia joining NATO, and whether Russia would attempt to impose “limited sovereignty” across the former Soviet bloc.
Updated at 8:03 a.m.