The United States and other Western powers on Monday kicked Russia out of their exclusive club, at least temporarily.
Western leaders replaced a Group of Eight meeting that Russia was to host in Sochi this June with a Group of Seven meeting in Brussels, effectively suspending Russia’s G-8 membership in the process.
The decision at an emergency meeting of the G-7 in The Hague is the latest in a series of diplomatic steps the Obama administration has taken to isolate Moscow for its takeover of Crimea, a region of Ukraine that Russia annexed last week.
In a joint statement, the G-7 countries said that the group was originally formed “because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities.”
“Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them. Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit,” the countries said.
The group also said it remained “ready to intensify” sanctions against Russia, “including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy.”
Russia quickly dismissed the ejection.
“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,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Amsterdam, according to Reuters.
Experts on Russia said Moscow wouldn’t like the exclusion, though they acknowledged the Kremlin could live with it.
“Russia liked being in the G-8,” said William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson Center. “It gave them prestige. It made them appear to be one of the major international players.”
Russia was added in 1998 to the G-8, which includes Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Western powers had hoped this would steer Russia toward economic and civil reforms, something in tatters after the events of the last few weeks.
The decision not to explicitly dissolve the G-8, suggests that Western powers want to keep the diplomatic door open.
To that point, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Kerry: 'We can't get where we need to go' in climate fight if China isn't joining in MORE and Lavrov met separately on Monday to discuss Ukraine.
U.S. officials also said they were heartened to see Lavrov meet with acting Ukrainian foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia after his meeting with Kerry — the first high-level meeting between Kiev and Moscow since last month’s ouster of pro-Russian Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych.
During their meeting, Kerry “expressed strong concern about the massing of a large number of Russian forces on the border and of the treatment of Ukrainian military forces, including many Ukrainian service members who are missing,” according to State Department official Marie Harf.
Kerry also reiterated that the U.S. was willing to escalate sanctions to target entire sectors of the Russian economy if Russia continued its aggression.
President Obama announced an executive measure enabling the government to impose the bolder penalties last week, as he announced a new round of sanctions against associates of Putin and a bank favored by the Kremlin.
Congress this week is moving to provide aid to Ukraine and to authorize more sanctions on Russia. The Senate on Monday night voted to move forward with an aid bill, though there are differences between the House and Senate over provisions in the legislation that would reform International Monetary Fund rules.
Despite the diplomatic posturing at The Hague, the Obama administration continued to shy away from some of the large-scale economic actions called for by lawmakers.
Obama has explicitly ruled out U.S. military action in Ukraine, and warned that broader economic sanctions should be considered carefully because they would have ramifications at home.
Business groups have lobbied the administration to be careful with the sanctions for fear they could hurt U.S. companies or the broader economy.
“What happens when either Boeing can’t get titanium and has to start contemplating layoffs, or Germans have to start paying more taxes?” Sam Charap, the senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Monday. “Western voters would have to make a sacrifice to punish what Russia did to a country that is not their own.”
The debate over additional steps will dominate the president’s next two days in Europe, which include meetings with the European Union and NATO. Any additional sanctions are likely to emerge from the president’s meeting with the EU on Wednesday, while he’ll use a meeting with NATO leadership mostly to reassure member countries that the U.S. stands ready to repel any incursion onto their land.
“The key to all of this is making sure that we’re all on the same page, so fissures don’t emerge that can be exploited,” Charap said.
This story was updated at 8:25 p.m.