ROME – President Obama and leaders of the world’s largest industrialized countries have expelled Russia from the Group of Eight until it “changes course” in Ukraine and have formally canceled plans to attend an economic summit in Russia in June.
The move was aimed at Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s plan to host the G-8 group of economic powers at Sochi, Russia, which would have been its second starring role on the world stage after the Winter Olympics.
Instead, the G-7 leaders will meet in Brussels without Putin. At the same time, the group said that it would not send its foreign ministers to a planned G-8 meeting in Moscow next month.
Though largely symbolic and falling short of new sanctions against Russia, the statement from the G-7 leaders pledged that they “remain ready” to intensify sanctions if Russia takes further action in Ukraine.
“This group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them,” the leaders of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan said in what they called “The Hague Declaration.”
The president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission also signed the statement.
The leaders met at Obama’s urging at The Hague, Netherlands, while attending a nuclear security summit.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov told reporters that Russia’s expulsion from the G-8 would be no “great tragedy,” Voice of Russia reported.
“If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it,” Lavrov told reporters after holding his first talks since the annexation with Andriy Deshchytsya, Ukraine’s interim foreign minister.
“At the very least, we are not trying to hold on to this format, and we see no great tragedy if (the G-8) does not meet,” said Lavrov, who also met separately with Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
The move is symbolic but still important, Michael A. McFaul, a Stanford University-based Russia specialist who until recently was U.S. ambassador to Moscow, told reporters on a conference call.
Putin understands that he is growing isolated and is bracing for a possible military engagement with NATO forces at some point, according to McFaul.
“Right now, I think he’s focused on consolidating and digging in for confrontation with the West,” McFaul said. “They fully expect it and that’s what they’re doing.”
The United States last week expanded a round of economic sanctions against Putin’s allies, but Obama is under pressure on the trip to convince European allies to step up their response.
Many analysts say the sanctions won’t have much bite without Europe’s involvement, but many leaders there are leery, given Europe’s trade and energy reliance on Russia.
Obama, who has ruled out U.S. military intervention in Ukraine, spoke briefly with reporters earlier in the day after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He said Europe and the United States are “united” in supporting the Ukrainian government.
The president added, “We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far.”
Meanwhile, Lavrov, in his meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, demanded more autonomy for Ukraine’s regions, even as Ukraine under pressure ordered its troops out from Crimea after the Russian seizure of military bases there.
Before the meeting, Deshchytsya said his government fears a Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s border. “The possibility of a military invasion is very high,” Deshchytsya said..
“We are very much worried about this concentration of troops on our eastern border.”