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As Criticism Mounts, Putin Camp Floats Early Exit From G20 Summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) arriving in Brisbane on November 14.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) arriving in Brisbane on November 14.

Amid blunt criticism of Moscow's policies from Western leaders, the Kremlin has denied a report that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to leave a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, earlier than planned.

An unnamed Russian official traveling with the delegation had been quoted by Western news agencies as suggesting that Putin would skip a working session of the summit on November 16 and leave early because he needed to attend meetings in Moscow.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was later quoted by Interfax as saying that Putin "will definitely leave [the summit] when all the work is finished."

It was still unclear whether he would attend a planned official lunch -- deemed "an entertainment" by the anonymous Russian source -- at the summit's conclusion.

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

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

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

"At present the listing of further persons is on the agenda," said Merkel.

Before his meeting with Putin on the G20 sidelines, Cameron said, "If destabilization gets worse, the rest of the world, Europe, America, Britain, will have no choice but to take further action in terms of sanctions."

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy also announced that EU foreign ministers will meet on November 17 to consider further steps against Russia unless it withdraws its troops and weaponry from eastern Ukraine.

Putin has come under pressure from several other Western leaders in Brisbane for the summit to do more to end the violence between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.

In Putin's meeting with President Hollande, the Russian leader called on his French counterpart to "minimize the risks and the negative consequences" of their relations.

Moscow and Paris are locked in a dispute over France's delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.

Western allies wanted France to scrap the $1.58 billion deal with Russia. France's refusal to hand over the warship has angered Moscow.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was approached by Putin to shake hands. According to Canadian media, Harper said, "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."

Kremlin's spokesman Peskov told journalists that Putin answered Harper, "unfortunately, this is impossible to do, because we are not there."

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech at Brisbane's University of Queensland on November 15 that the United States is leading the world in “opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” which he described as “a threat to the world.”

Obama said the global threat now posed by Russia “was seen by the appalling shoot down of MH17” -- the Malaysia Airlines jet that was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17 by a missile suspected to have been provided by Russia and fired by Russian-backed separatists.

All 298 people aboard were killed -- including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Brisbane that "the current situation is not sustainable for world peace and the economy."

Ban urged world leaders, "particularly the United States, Europe, and the Russian leaders who are sitting together at the G20 to discuss the matter."

Kyiv and NATO have said multiple columns of Russian tanks, artillery, antiaircraft units, and troops have crossed from Russian territory during the past week to reinforce pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirm seeing unmarked military columns reinforcing separatists in eastern Ukraine during the past week.

But the OSCE monitors say their mandate prevented them from being positioned where they could confirm whether the columns had crossed from Russian territory.

Meanwhile, reports from Brisbane say an overhaul of the global energy market could be a long-term outcome of the summit after talks there about a new international agency to prevent oil and gas supplies from being used as foreign policy tools.

Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, has been wielded repeatedly as a foreign policy tool by the Kremlin -- which uses gas prices and the threat of supply cuts to pressure foreign governments.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, Interfax and "The Australian"
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