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Criticized Over Ukraine's Crisis, Putin Leaves G20 Summit Early

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin waves as he boards his plane to depart from the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, on November 16.

Russian President Vladimir Putin waves as he boards his plane to depart from the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, on November 16.

Russian President Vladimir Putin flew out of Australia on November 16 before the end of the G20 summit after facing harsh criticism from world leaders over Russia’s role in the Ukrainian crisis.

Putin broke protocol by giving a press conference to a select group of reporters and pre-empting remarks to the media by the host leader, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He then left the country before the G20’s final communique was issued.

Earlier, the Kremlin had denied reports that Putin would leave the summit early as a result of the concerted barrage of international criticism he has faced there over Moscow’s support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Putin continues to deny that Russian troops and heavy weapons have been deployed in Ukraine.

In his press conference, which was broadcast on Russian television, he complained that he was being unfairly criticized for events beyond his control.

However, he praised what he called a "constructive" atmosphere at the gathering, saying "some of our views do not coincide, but the discussions were complete, constructive, and very helpful."

He also thanked Abbott for hosting the event, who has strongly criticized him in recent days, for providing a "nice, welcoming, and good working atmosphere" at the two-day summit.

Putin, who once described himself as working like a "galley-slave," said that he left early because he wanted to be rested before returning to work in Moscow on November 17.

"On Monday I must go to work. I hope to have four or five hours to sleep," Putin said shortly before leaving Brisbane. "I told this to Tony and he was very understanding, so I didn't give it a second thought."

Putin's departure came after President Barack Obama, Abbott, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a joint statement saying they are united in "opposing Russia's purported annexation of Crimea and its actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine, and bringing to justice those responsible for the downing of Flight MH17."

Russia is accused of supplying pro-Russian separatists with the BUK surface-to-air missile system that is suspected of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July -- killing all 298 people aboard.

On November 15, Obama said the downing of MH17 demonstrated that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” is “a threat to the world.”

A state-run Russian television channel on November 14 broadcast what it called a "sensational" satellite photograph supporting Moscow's suggestions that that the plane was downed by a Ukrainian fighter jet. But commentators swiftly highlighted telltale signs that the photo was a crude fake and the United States dismissed the Russian report as "preposterous."

Obama and European leaders were scheduled to meet on November 16 to discuss additional possible sanctions against Russia.

Other leaders at the G20 summit publicly rejected Putin's claim there are no Russian forces are in eastern Ukraine.

Those remarks come after NATO’s top commander in Europe announced the alliance has confirmed “multiple columns” of troops, tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft systems have crossed the border into eastern Ukraine from Russian territory during the past week.

Although the Ukraine crisis was not on the formal agenda of the G20 summit, it was a prominent topic in Putin’s informal meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper, when approached by Putin to shake hands, told the Russian president: "I guess I'll shake your hand. But I only have one thing to say to you. You need to get out of Ukraine."

Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking separately on the sidelines of the summit, warned of more sanctions if Moscow does not withdraw its troops and weaponry from eastern Ukraine.

Cameron said after Putin's early departure on November 16 that the G20 summit "sent a very clear message" to the Russian president.

Earlier, he said that if Ukraine is destabilized further, "the rest of the world -- Europe, America, Britain -- will have no choice but to take further action in terms of sanctions" against Russia.

Merkel told reporters that the European Union is considering further financial sanctions against Russian individuals because of the crisis in Ukraine.

She said an expanded list of Russians who could be targeted “is on the agenda."

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy says European Union foreign ministers will meet on November to consider further steps against Russia unless it withdraws all of its troops and weapons from eastern Ukraine.

Van Rompuy said Russia also must use its influence to get the rebels in eastern Ukraine to adhere to a September 5 cease-fire agreement that has been violated daily since it was brokered by Russian diplomats in Minsk.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, Interfax, and TASS
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