Vladimir Putin intends to cut short his attendance at the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, a Russian source said Saturday, as the strongman faced intense pressure from the West over the ongoing Ukraine conflict. British Prime Minister David Cameron went so far as to allude to Nazi Germany when referring to Russian actions.
“The program of the second day (for Putin) is changing, it’s being cut short,” a source in the Russian delegation told AFP on condition of anonymity. He did not give a reason for the change.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with Putin, the British prime minister on Friday criticized the Russian leader’s support of a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine and accused Russia of “bullying a smaller state in Europe.”
Widely reported in the British press as an allusion to Adolf Hitler’s regime, Cameron added that the world had in the past seen the terrible results of a major power meddling in the affairs of a weaker European country.
“We have seen the consequences of that in the past and we should learn the lessons of history and make sure we don’t let it happen again,” he said.
The British leader stressed that Putin must work towards resolving the conflict in Ukraine, according to a Downing Street source, or face further deterioration in relations with the West.
“The prime minister was clear at the start of the Ukraine discussions that we face a fork in the road, in terms of where we go next,” the source said, quoted by the Guardian.
“We can either see implementation of the Minsk agreement and what follows from that in terms of an improvement of relations,” the source said, referring to accords signed between Ukraine and Russia in September, “or we can see things go in a very different way in terms of relations between Russia and the UK, Europe and the US.”
The West this week accused Russia of sending fresh military hardware into eastern Ukraine, fueling fears of a return to all-out conflict.
Putin, on his part, will attend summit sessions on Sunday but will skip an official lunch and address reporters earlier than planned, according to a Russian delegation member.
The source denied that Putin was bowing out under pressure from top Western leaders.
“There were no scandals,” the source said.
The Kremlin, mindful that Putin’s exit might further stoke tensions, quickly moved to quash speculation that the Russian strongman was leaving early.
“The G-20 summit will be over tomorrow, Putin will certainly leave it, when all the work is completed the president will leave,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Russian radio.
He denied that pressure from Western leaders, who have threatened Russia with more sanctions if fighting in eastern Ukraine intensifies, forced Putin to change plans.
“Sanctions are being actively and broadly discussed at all bilateral meetings but no one is putting pressure,” Peskov said. “This is complete nonsense,” he told Russian reporters separately. “This is a usual, routine situation.”
Earlier, Putin received a less-than-warm welcome from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he approached Harper for a handshake.
“I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you — You need to get out of Ukraine,” Harper told Putin, according to the prime minister’s spokesman, Jason MacDonald.
Beforehand, in a speech to a Brisbane university audience, US President Barack Obama said that the United States was a leading voice in opposing Russian aggression in Ukraine, which he described as “a threat to the world.”
He referred to the shooting down on July 17 of a Malaysia Airlines jet by a missile suspected to have been fired by Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine which caused the loss of 298 lives, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.
“As your ally and friend, America shares the grief of these Australian families and we share the determination of your nation for justice and accountability,” Obama said.
European Union President Von Rompuy called for both sides to abide by the ceasefire agreement between Ukraine, the rebels and Russia that was signed in Minsk, Belarus, in September.
Russia must use its influence on the rebels to ensure they comply with the Minsk agreement, stop the flow of weapons and troops from Russia and withdraw Russian troops already in Ukraine, Von Rompuy said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a similar call. The State Department said Kerry expressed “grave concern” about increased Russian support for the separatists and called for the implementation of the Minsk agreement, including a cease-fire, border monitoring, release of all hostages and a return to dialogue during a discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Von Rompuy declined to comment on the likelihood of the EU deciding to ratchet up sanctions.
“Russia has still the opportunity to fulfill its Minsk agreements and chose the path of de-escalation, which could allow sanctions to be rolled back,” he said. “If it does not do so however, we are ready to consider additional action.”