The United States and its Western allies have decided to skip a planned economic summit with Russia, in retaliation for President Vladimir Putin’s military takeover of the Ukraine’s Crimean territory.
“We have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in [the Russian city of] Sochi in June,” said statement from the White House.
It is not clear if the symbolic counter-move will stop Putin’s military takeover of the Russian-majority portions of the Ukraine.
Russian forces have surrounded Ukrainian barracks, and have seized airports, naval bases and weapons depots in the Crimea. Also, Russian-supported demonstrators have mobilized in eastern Russian-majority towns against the Ukrainian government, which has mobilized its small army as a larger Russian army assembles on its border.
The G-7 statement did not directly threaten retaliation against Russia.
However, the statement suggested that some economic penalties may be imposed later, when it said that Putin’s invasion is “in contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine.”
The statement also promised financial aid to Ukraine. “To that end, we will support Ukraine’s work with the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a new program and to implement needed reforms.”
“We are united in supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own future,” said the statement, which was approved by President Barack Obama and the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, plus the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission.
Obama has repeatedly signaled his reluctance to get involved in the fight between Ukraine and Russia.
“Well, it’s Friday. It’s after 5:00,” Obama joked to Democratic supporters as he began a rally shortly after giving a brief and vague statement about the crisis on Friday. “So this is now officially happy hour with the Democratic Party. … I have the authority,” he said. (RELATED: Obama asks Putin to remove troops from Ukraine during long phone call)
On Saturday, he skipped a Saturday national security council meeting about the Russian invasion.
Obama did not attended national security meeting on Sunday, and the Sunday G-7 statement did not directly threaten Russia if it does not back down.
Obama’s options in the crisis are few. His international credibility is weak, the U.S. economy is stalled, the U.S. public does not want to get involved in a war with Russia, and neither do European countries. Most importantly, Obama is focused on the 2014 elections, and is trying to boost enthusiasm among progressives, feminists, gays, environmentalists, African-Americans and Latinos before the November ballot.
So far, Obama has tried to talk the crisis down, without getting himself too involved.
The Sunday statement, for example, called “on all parties concerned to behave with the greatest extent of self-restraint and responsibility, and to decrease the tensions.”
The Ukraine has been an independent country since 1991, after 72 years of occupation by the Soviet Union. The population of 45 million remain poor, partly because of political corruption and political struggles between the its western, Ukrainian-speaking provinces, and its eastern, Russian-speaking provinces.
The Russian takeover will likely paralyze the independent country until either Russian forces or the Russian-majority provinces quit Ukraine.