PRIME Minister David Cameron is joining other EU leaders in talks with US president Barack Obama to discuss a co-ordinated Western response to the suspected continuing Russian destabilisation of Ukraine.
Tensions over Ukraine have dominated a summit of the G20 group of leading economies in Australia, where Vladimir Putin received a frosty reception from fellow world leaders.
The Russian president ducked out of the Brisbane summit early yesterday, missing an official lunch which winds up the two-day gathering.
In a 50-minute one-on-one exchange, which Downing Street described as “robust” last night, Mr Cameron warned Mr Putin he was facing a “fork in the road” in his relations with the rest of the world.
Russia must choose between patching up relations with the international community by observing the terms of September’s Minsk peace agreement, or risking further sanctions if it continues to destabilise Ukraine, Mr Cameron said.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
The international community suspects Russia of continuing to send troops and weapons over the border into areas of eastern Ukraine held by separatist rebels - something Mr Putin denied.
Mr Obama said Moscow’s “aggression against Ukraine” was “a threat to the world”.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper told the Russian president: “I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”
Mr Putin has stoked tension in Brisbane by deploying four Russian warships to the Coral Sea off Australia’s eastern seaboard.
Mr Cameron dismissed the move as no more than a display of “international machismo”, but the summit’s host, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, described it as part of a “regrettable pattern” of Russian military aggression apparently designed to evoke the “lost glories” of the Soviet Union.
Mr Cameron and other EU leaders – Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Francois Hollande, Italy’s Matteo Renzi and Mariano Rajoy of Spain – were due to hold a meeting with Mr Obama on the fringe of the summit, at which future policy towards Russia will top the agenda.
Today, EU foreign ministers are to meet in Brussels to discuss possible further sanctions, thought likely to target individuals responsible for disputed elections in two eastern enclaves of Ukraine which saw majorities for pro-independence rebels.
The EU imposed sanctions on members of Mr Putin’s inner circle after the annexation of Crimea in March, and the measures have since been ratcheted up to target broad sectors of the Russian economy, which Mr Cameron said had impacted on the rouble and the Moscow stock market, and the ability of Russian banks to access finance.
Asked if he could trust the Russian president, the Prime Minister replied: “I take people as I find them. The sad thing is that undertakings given in the Minsk agreement have not been followed but the right thing to do is to continue to engage.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS