Russian president Vladimir Putin left the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Brisbane, Australia early, flying back to Moscow on Sunday after world leaders accused him of bullying and warned him to drop his support of separatists in Ukraine.
In meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin accused the Ukrainian government of making punitive sanctions against cities in the eastern region of the country that voted for independence last month, while Cameron said Russia was "bullying a smaller state in Europe."
President Barack Obama said the U.S. was "opposing Russia's aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the world." He added that Russia had failed to hold up its part of the ceasefire plan agreed upon in Minsk in September.
European Union President Herman von Rompuy told reporters on Saturday that foreign ministers were ready to consider additional actions against Russia. "Russia has still the opportunity to fulfill its Minsk agreements and chose the path of de-escalation, which could allow sanctions to be rolled back," von Rompuy said. "If it does not do so however, we are ready to consider additional action."
"We need to avoid a return to a full-scale conflict," he added.
Obama echoed that sentiment, saying that if Russia engaged in diplomatic efforts to deescalate the fighting in Ukraine, the U.S. would suggest lifting sanctions "that are frankly having a devastating effect on the Russian economy."
The Guardian writes:
The crisis has been deepened by the creation of the declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) led by Alexander Zakharchenko, an electrician turned battalion commander. Earlier this month the region occupied by separatists for six months organised an unauthorised vote to appoint a prime minister.
The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, announced in response that all state funding would be cut off, arguing that the elections violated the Minsk peace accords signed in September.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also reportedly told Putin, "I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine."
More than 4,000 people have been killed in that country since April, where separatist fighting has continued to escalate. The Russian government has repeatedly denied involvement in the conflict, including the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 on July 17, killing 298 people, as it flew over rebel-held territory.
Putin denied that he was leaving over the barrage of criticism, instead saying that he needed to return to work in Moscow.
In an interview with German TV, Putin also said that additional sanctions against Russia could backfire on Western countries.
"Do they want to bankrupt our banks? In that case they will bankrupt Ukraine," Putin said. "Have they thought about what they are doing at all or not? Or has politics blinded them? As we know eyes constitute a peripheral part of brain. Was something switched off in their brains?"
The Guardian continues:
Nato claims 300 Russian troops remain in Ukraine training the separatist forces ahead of likely fresh offensives. Several of the contested areas are crucial for the republic’s long-term survival, including the port city of Mariupol and a power station north of Luhansk....
Putin has insisted he will not cut funding to Ukraine, or demand early repayment of loans.
“We do not want to aggravate the situation. We want Ukraine to get back on its feet at last,” the president has previously said.
Although the western media has portrayed Putin as an isolated figure at the summit, he has continued to forge close relations with the Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) a grouping that is becoming increasingly organised at the G20 and, in terms of economic size, more than matches the size of the G7 economies.