European leaders called on Russia to stop supplying rebels in eastern Ukraine, stepping up pressure on President Vladimir Putin as he joined the Group of 20 summit in Australia.
“We will continue to use all diplomatic tools, including sanctions, at our disposal” to end the crisis, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters in Brisbane. “Russia must stop the inflow of weapons and troops,” he said, adding European foreign ministers will gather Nov. 17 to discuss further possible steps.
The crisis may overshadow the two-day G-20 summit, intended to focus on boosting growth and jobs. As host Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who’s accused Russia of supplying the weapons used to shoot down Malaysian Airline System Bhd. Flight 17, addressed leaders today, Putin was seated at the other end of the room. That’s a far cry from his central position at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing this week, where he and President Barack Obama flanked Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
While Abbott posed for pictures with Obama, Xi, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Canada’s Stephen Harper at a barbecue lunch today, Putin sat with Brazil’s Dilma Vana Rousseff across the other side of a table for six.
When the leaders later walked one-by-one into the Brisbane venue for an official summit welcome from Abbott, Putin was toward the end of the line. As they shook hands Abbott clasped Putin on the shoulder and the two smiled and chatted briefly as they posed for photographs.
The Ukraine crisis is the worst standoff between Russia and its former Cold War foes since the Iron Curtain fell 25 years ago. Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March, has repeatedly denied that it’s sending its armed forces into Ukraine or aiding the separatists.
Yury Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy aide, told reporters in Brisbane today that Russia wasn’t involved in the recent escalation and continued to support the Sept. 5 truce signed in Minsk, Belarus.
Cameron, who has said sanctions on Russia may be expanded if the situation in Ukraine worsens, told Sky Television today that it was important to warn of the dangers of Russia continuing to head “in the wrong direction.”
“I don’t call it a Cold War, but obviously it won’t be in anybody’s interests for this to happen and least of all Russia,” he said.
Cameron earlier questioned why four Russian warships sailed toward northern Australia ahead of the G-20 meeting.
“I didn’t feel it necessary to bring a warship myself to keep myself safe at this G-20, and I’m sure that Putin won’t be in any danger,” he told reporters yesterday.
Obama called Russian “aggression” in Ukraine a threat to global security and in a speech at the University of Queensland said the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in July had appalled the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will meet alone with Putin at the G-20, said yesterday the weapons deliveries to Ukraine are “worrying developments.”
When the Russian leader arrived at his Brisbane hotel late yesterday in a motorcade that stretched to about 20 vehicles, there was a crowd of about 200 people outside and a large police presence. The crowd mostly cheered as his car pulled in, and many people were taking pictures of themselves in front of the hotel.
About 30 men of Russian and Serbian origin marched outside the G-20 summit site today carrying placards that read: “Putin, our president and emperor.” To the tune of World War II songs blaring from a stereo, they held aloft flags from the Slavic nations, and oversized portraits of Putin similar to those of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
As military helicopters buzzed over the city and the temperature soared to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), another group of protesters rallied against the Russian president. One held a photo-shopped image portraying Putin as Doctor Evil from the Austin Powers movies, while others carried placards that read “Putin Not Welcome in Oz” and “Russian Troops Get Out of Ukraine.”
Seeking to keep the focus of the meeting on economic growth and jobs, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said G-20 finance ministers were confident of reaching their goal of lifting collective gross domestic product by an additional 2 percent, or more, over five years.
G-20 countries have put forward more than 1,000 policy initiatives that deliver stronger growth, Hockey said in remarks at a meeting of finance ministers in Brisbane.
China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters today in Brisbane that the G-20 should focus on economic and financial matters. The global recovery is fragile, unbalanced and too slow, he said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker arrived at the summit calling for more harmonized tax legislation among EU member states. He brushed off questions over whether he should step down amid accusations of sweetheart tax deals, saying he’ll lead Europe’s fight against tax evasion.
“Tax evasion sometimes happens because of the interaction between very divergent national tax rules,” Juncker told reporters. “In accordance with the law, you can create a situation” that results in “a very low taxation of companies. This has to be avoided,” he said.