The world’s leading industrialized nations threatened on Wednesday to impose harder-hitting sanctions on Russia if it does not help restore stability to eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militias continue to operate at will.
While Ukraine was able to hold a largely peaceful presidential election last month, the situation in the east near the Russian border remains volatile, with armed groups attacking Ukrainian government forces and occupying state buildings.
“We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to consider significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require,” the G7 said in a statement after evening talks in Brussels.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Western powers would check “again and again” to verify that Russia was doing what it could to stabilize the situation, which erupted in March after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine and annexed it.
“If we do not have progress in the questions we have to solve there is the possibility of sanctions, even heavy sanctions of phase 3 on the table,” she said, referring to restrictions on trade, finance and energy.
Some saw that as an indication that Russia was being more cooperative, reducing the threat of further sanctions. But Wednesday’s statement suggests the West is not yet satisfied that President Vladimir Putin is doing enough to calm the situation.
Russia denies it is behind the revolt in eastern Ukraine, where militias allied to Moscow have seized buildings, attacked Ukrainian troops and declared independence. Putin has also defended his right to protect Russian-speaking people.
While Putin has been cut out of the G7 – this is the first meeting without Russia since it joined the club in 1997 – he will hold face-to-face meetings with Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Britain’s David Cameron at a D-Day anniversary gathering in France later this week.
Asked about those bilateral meetings and whether they raised any concerns for President Barack Obama, who has pointedly avoided any contact with Putin, a U.S. official said it wasn’t important who Putin met but “what people say in those meetings”. Ahead of the G7 summit, Obama met Poroshenko for talks in Warsaw and declared him a “wise choice” to lead Ukraine, part of efforts by the EU and the United States to provide moral and financial support to the new leadership.
“As things stand now, a meeting between me and Putin is not envisaged, but I do not rule out that it could take place in one format or another,” he told reporters, adding that he was working on a peace plan for Ukraine that would involve the decentralization of power, local elections and an amnesty.