Obama: G-7 ‘in lockstep’ on Russia

 

President Obama said the G-7 nations were “in lockstep” on Russia and pressed Moscow to engage with Ukraine’s newly elected government or risk further sanctions.

"If Russia's provocations continue, it's clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia," Obama said at a joint press conference following a meeting of the world's largest economies in Brussels.

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The president called on Russia to seize an opportunity to develop a constructive relationship with Kiev.

"Russia needs to recognize that President-elect [Petro] Poroshenko is the legitimately elected leader of Ukraine and engage the government in Kiev," Obama said.

"Given its influence over the militants in Ukraine, Russia continues to have a responsibility to convince them to end their violence, lay down their weapons and enter into a dialogue with the Ukrainian government," he continued.

At the joint press conference, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia's actions over the next month would be "vital in judging if President Putin has taken these steps."

"If these things don't happen, then sectoral sanctions will follow," Cameron vowed.

The British leader is expected to reiterate that threat in a one-on-one meeting with Putin later Thursday. 

President Obama does not have plans for any bilateral talks with Putin, although the pair are likely to interact at a ceremony Friday marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.

Obama said, "should we have the opportunity to talk, I'll be repeating the same message I have throughout this crisis."

"Russia has a legitimate interest in what happens in Ukraine, given that it's on its border and given its historical ties,” the president said.

“But ultimately, it is up to the people of Ukraine to make their own decisions, that Russian armed forces annexing pieces of a neighbor is illegal and violates international law,” he continued, “and the kinds of destabilizing activities that we now see funded and encouraged by Russia are illegal and are not constructive.

“There is a path on which Russia has the capacity to engage directly with President Poroshenko now," Obama said. "He [Putin] should take it."

Thursday's meeting of the G-7 was originally slated to take place in Sochi, where Russia hosted the Winter Olympic Games earlier this year. But the group expelled Russia over its annexation of Crimea and ongoing provocations in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions.

Cameron defended his decision to meet directly with Putin despite his exclusion from the talks.

"I think there's a world of difference between having a dialogue with President Putin and excluding someone from an institution as significant as the G-8 and the G-7," Cameron said.