DAVID Cameron has warned Vladimir Putin that he faces “a fork in the road” in Russia’s future relationships with the West because of the failure to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine.
The Prime Minister confronted Putin over Russia’s interference in its smaller neighbour in a conversation on the fringes of the G20 summit in Australia yesterday which Downing Street described as a “robust exchange”.
Cameron said the Russian president faced a choice between restoring relations with the rest of the world by observing the terms of September’s peace agreement in Minsk or risking further sanctions by continuing to destabilise Ukraine. European leaders are to discuss the situation in Ukraine with US president Barack Obama today, and EU finance ministers will meet on Monday to consider the case for extending sanctions.
The G20 summit, whose official agenda focuses on economic growth and jobs, has developed into a showdown between Putin and other world leaders. Putin stoked tensions by deploying four warships to the Coral Sea, off Australia’s eastern coast, in a move described by the host of the summit, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, as part of a “regrettable pattern” of Russian military assertiveness designed to recreate the “lost glories” of the Soviet Union.
Cameron said Putin’s exercise of “international machismo” should not be allowed to distract from events in Ukraine.
Following their 50-minute meeting, a Downing Street source said: “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. We can either see implementation of the Minsk agreement and what follows from that in terms of an improvement of relations. Or we can see things go in a very different way in terms of relations between Russia and the UK, Europe and the US.”
According to a Downing Street source, Putin continued to insist that Russia has no troops in Ukraine and indicated he was supportive of the deployment of international monitors and drones to check on movements of soldiers or weapons across the border into Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesman said the president had given “quite detailed explanations” of recent events in south-eastern Ukraine.
Cameron said: “We’re heading at the moment in the wrong direction. What we need is for Russia to change track and to stop destabilising Ukraine, to respect the Minsk agreement, to recognise that there’s only one legitimate government in Ukraine – and that’s the elected government – and to allow that country to make its own choices about its own future. That’s not the direction we’re heading in.
Putin has received a frosty welcome from other world leaders in Brisbane, and is reported to be planning to leave earlier than scheduled.
Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper took his proffered hand only reluctantly, telling him: “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”
And Abbott said he had told Putin that “Russia would be so much more attractive if it was aspiring to be a superpower for peace and prosperity, if it was trying to be a superpower for ideas and for values, instead of trying to recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the old Soviet Union”.