BRUSSELS -- The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial countries have convened in Brussels to discuss their response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory and what they call Moscow’s deliberate campaign to destabilize its ex-Soviet neighbor.
The Ukraine crisis was expected to be the focus of the working dinner, with leaders discussing political support for Ukraine and potential further sanctions against Russia should circumstances warrant such a response.
Russia had originally been slated to host the summit in its Black Sea resort of Sochi, but G7 leaders later moved the meeting to Brussels and disinvited Moscow as punishment for the Crimea annexation in March.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said prior to the working dinner that the G7 must continue to pressure Russia while simultaneously bolstering Ukraine and its newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Brussels hours before the dinner after a visit to Poland, where he reaffirmed the United States' "unwavering" commitment to the security of Poland and other Eastern and Central European NATO allies after Russia’s Ukraine intervention.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered a positive assessment of the G7 countries’ response to the Ukraine crisis.
She added: “We will firstly consider how we can further support Ukraine after the election of a new president there. Secondly, we will continue talks with Russia about the necessary measures. And thirdly, we will make clear again, if all that doesn't help, that new sanctions [against Russia] are an option."
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said he would attend Poroshenko’s inauguration in Kyiv on June 7 to demonstrate EU solidarity with Ukraine.
He added that the EU intends to sign the rest of an association agreement with Kyiv.
Van Rompuy tweeted a photo at the start of the working dinner:
Russia has fiercely opposed the political and trade pacts that compose the agreement, which Moscow sees as a Western attempt to undermine Russian influence in Ukraine.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States has embarked on a conscious effort to damage Russia’s interests, including in Ukraine.
The G7 leaders are scheduled to hold discussions on June 5 as well. They are expected to address the global economy as well as energy and climate change, among other issues.