Russia suspended from G8 over annexation of Crimea
Russia was suspended from the G8 club of rich countries last night as President Barack Obama promised to "impose a greater cost" on the Kremlin if the confrontation over Ukraine escalates.
The group of leaders retaliated for President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Ukraine's region of Crimea by agreeing to exclude Russia from their meetings. Mr Obama joined David Cameron and the leaders of France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan to impose the penalty.
However, they stopped short of permanently barring Russia from the top table of international politics, holding open the prospect of re-admission if Moscow agrees to "abide by international rules".
Until then, the G8 is effectively suspended and the world's richest countries will meet as the G7.
Their main fear is that Mr Putin will move beyond Crimea and invade eastern Ukraine. The latest diplomatic efforts are designed to deter Russia from taking this step.
Mr Putin's plan to hold a showcase G8 summit in Sochi, the Winter Olympics host city, in June has now been cancelled. The G7 is to meet in Brussels instead.
A communique said that Mr Putin's actions in Ukraine were inconsistent with the "shared beliefs" of the G8.
"Under these circumstances we will not participate in the planned Sochi summit," it said. "We will suspend our participation in the G8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G8 is able to have a meaningful discussion.
"We remain ready to intensify actions including co-ordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation."
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, ridiculed the latest diplomatic sanction. "The G8 is an informal club, there is no formal membership in that club, so nobody can be expelled from that club by definition," he said. "If our Western partners believe that this format has no more future, well so be it."
The suspension came as Ukrainian troops began leaving Crimea. After weeks of prevarication during which scores of military bases have been stormed by Russian troops, Olexander Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine, finally ordered his armed forces to withdraw from the territory in the face of "Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families".
However, Russia made a conciliatory move when Mr Lavrov held formal talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsya, in The Hague yesterday. Russia maintains that Ukraine's new post-revolutionary government is an illegal administration consisting of "bandits" and "extremists".
By meeting the Ukrainian foreign minister, Mr Lavrov was implicitly conceding the new government's legitimacy.
Mr Obama tried to stiffen European resolve by urging tougher economic sanctions against Russia.
"There have to be consequences, and if Russia continues to escalate the situation, we need to be prepared to impose a greater cost," said Mr Obama.
Mr Obama is concerned that European leaders are reluctant to tighten sanctions because countries such as Germany and Italy are overly dependent on Russian energy supplies. (© Daily Telegraph, London)