Most of the G7 leaders presented a united front on upholding their sanctions against Russia as they opened their annual summit yesterday, making clear that now is not the time for a softer stance.
This year’s meeting of the leading industrialised democracies was the second in a row without Russia, which was ejected from what was the G-8 last year over its actions in Ukraine.
Even with President Vladimir Putin absent, Russia was prominent in the leaders’ minds as they gathered in the Bavarian Alps. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama agreed during a pre-summit bilateral meeting that the duration of sanctions imposed on Moscow should be “clearly linked to Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk peace accord agreed in February”, the White House said in a statement. Ms Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, another summit participant, were central to drawing up that accord.
The summit was expected to produce a declaration on Ukraine from all the participants.
Ms Merkel said she expected the G7 leaders to send a “united signal”. She stressed that sanctions were not an end in themselves and they “can be dispensed with when the conditions under which they were introduced are no longer there and the problems are resolved.”
She added that “we have a chance if everyone makes an effort — that is to some extent in Russia’s hands and of course in Ukraine’s.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would push for Europe to stand firm with sanctions against Russia even though some countries — especially cash-strapped Greece — were suffering economically because of declining investment and tourists from Russia.
“It has an impact on all countries in terms of putting sanctions on another country,” Mr Cameron said. “Britain hasn’t let our pre-eminence in financial services get in the way of taking a robust response to Russian-backed aggression and I don’t think other countries should either.”
EU President Donald Tusk said that since the Ukraine peace deal agreed in Minsk had not been fully implemented, the only question for the 28-nation EU is whether to make the sanctions against Russia even tougher.
“If anyone wants to start a debate about changing the sanctions regime, the discussion could only be about strengthening them,” said Mr Tusk, a former Polish prime minister. The EU participates in the summits of the G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.
After Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year, the other world powers kicked the country out of the G8 in an effort to isolate Mr Putin and to signal the West’s united opposition to his actions.
The rift has deepened amid subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine and several rounds of sanctions against Russia.
The US and the European Union have imposed financial restrictions on Russian companies and individuals to pressure Russia into stopping its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. They and NATO say Russian troops and military equipment have been used on Ukrainian territory — something Russia denies.
Meanwhile, protesters blocked roads as the G7 leaders arrived to begin their two-day summit. Journalists were flown by helicopter to the venue to avoid delays on the roads due to the protesters.
Several hundred demonstrators hiked from the resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen to get near the security perimeter around the Schloss Elmau hotel, the secluded summit venue 8km away. Up to 22,000 police from around Germany were brought in to keep the protesters away from the hotel.
At the security fence, about 200 protesters shouted chants like “Freedom and peace, no more G7!” and waved signs with slogans like “Politics for people, not markets.”