A meeting of major world leaders in Australia that was supposed to focus on jolting weak economic growth was overshadowed by the renewed crisis in Ukraine as some G20 leaders seized the opportunity to shame President Vladimir Putin over reports of Russian troops and equipment in the eastern part of the country. Mr. Putin is now facing new sanctions as European officials meet Monday.
By the time the summit was over, Mr. Putin heard strong words on the issue from major Western leaders. But it was a sharp face-to-face confrontation between Stephen Harper and Mr. Putin that attracted widespread attention for the particularly blunt message the Canadian Prime Minister delivered.
In the presence of as many as eight other leaders, Mr. Harper told Mr. Putin that he should “get out of Ukraine.” He said later that the world has to keep up the pressure on Mr. Putin and “make it clear it will not be business as usual” with Russia.
Similarly, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott were harshly critical of the Russian leader. Australia, like Canada, has a significant population of Ukrainian immigrants and 38 Australian citizens and residents were among the 298 passengers who died in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine in July. Ukraine blamed the crash on Russian-backed rebels, but Russia has denied any involvement.
In Canada, key NDP and Liberal MPs supported Mr. Harper’s comments, but said Sunday the country must do more in terms of sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine.
“To be direct is fine, but it’s a matter of what you follow it up with,” said NDP MP Paul Dewar. “I’m not sure beyond the handshake and the chastisement from Harper what was achieved.”
Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, who has worked in Russia and Ukraine as a journalist, said strong support for Ukraine has non-partisan support because of Canada’s “special connection” with Ukraine.
“There has been in the past few days a really worrying escalation of the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine,” she said. “Strong rhetorical support for Ukraine is essential and strong action in support of Ukraine is essential, too.”
At the summit, Mr. Putin was not accorded the normal level of attention. He was placed at the outside edge of leaders for the formal “family photograph” and only Australia’s assistant defence minister was on hand to greet him when his plane arrived.
Russia was kicked out of the G8 earlier this year after seizing control of Ukraine’s Crimea region. World leaders have been ramping up economic sanctions since, but the G20 provided an opportunity to raise their concerns directly with Mr. Putin.
As a result, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine overshadowed the summit’s economic focus, even though G20 leaders did agree on co-ordinated action that they said would add more than $2-trillion (U.S.) to global economic output through increased trade and infrastructure spending. Mr. Putin ended up leaving early, citing the long flight to Russia and a need for sleep.
Mr. Obama said Washington stands ready to increase sanctions on Moscow if necessary, noting the existing penalties have been “having a devastating impact on the Russian economy” in recent months.
Mr. Obama said the United States is firm on the need to uphold international principles.
“You don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country.”
While it wasn’t on the agenda, Mr. Obama brought climate change into the discussion, announcing Washington is pledging $3-billion to a UN-backed fund to fight global warming and saying a recent China-U.S. deal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is a challenge to other nations.
“If China and the U.S. can agree on this, then the world can agree on this – we can get this done,” Mr. Obama said in a University of Queensland speech.
But it was Russia’s apparent invasion of eastern Ukraine that hung over the G20 summit.
Ukraine was the “big ghost at the banquet,” in Brisbane, John Kirton, co-director of the University of Toronto’s G20 Research Centre, said, adding the crisis poses a threat to Europe’s economy.
He warned that escalating sanctions and countersanctions could trigger another financial crisis.
“You can simply not generate growth in Europe unless you get Russian troops out of Ukraine and get Russia to give the Crimean region back to Ukraine over the next five years.”
Europe’s foreign ministers are set to meet Monday to determine whether further sanctions are now necessary and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy demanded Moscow “stop the inflow of weapons and troops from its territory into Ukraine” and “withdraw those already present.”
Mr. Putin, for his part, accused the West of imposing unlawful penalties on Russia and said Moscow is prepared, if necessary, to wait out a “catastrophic” collapse in oil prices.
The Russian leader complained about sanctions, saying the asset freezes, visa bans and measures preventing Russian companies from accessing Western financial markets and technology go against international law because only the United Nations had the right to impose them.
Mr. Harper’s encounter with Mr. Putin came Saturday morning when he was speaking to a group of leaders.
The Russian leader stuck out his hand.
Mr. Harper accepted the gesture but said to Mr. Putin: “I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine,” according to the Prime Minister’s spokesperson. A spokesman for the Russian government said Mr. Putin replied: “That’s impossible because we are not there.”
Mr. Harper said it’s revealing that Moscow is denying sending troops and armour into Ukraine. “We all know they have, of course,” he said, adding Mr. Putin’s line “tells us they are really on the defensive.”
“If you’re proud of what you’ve done, you say so,” the Prime Minister said.
STEVEN CHASE AND BILL CURRY
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA and OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Nov. 16 2014, 2:28 AM EST
Last updated Sunday, Nov. 16 2014, 9:57 PM EST