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World leaders take Putin to task over Ukraine at G20

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For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the G20 summit in Australia didn't prove to be a very amicable occasion.

Putin has found himself on the receiving end of a series of sharp verbal jabs from some of his fellow world leaders.

The reason? Russia's interference in Ukraine.

One of the bluntest rebukes came from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I guess I'll shake your hand," Harper told Putin on Saturday, according to aides of the Canadian leader. But he then quickly warned Putin, "You need to get out of Ukraine."

U.S. President Barack Obama also voiced criticism of Moscow, saying in a speech that Russian aggression against Ukraine "is a threat to the world."

Amid the strong words, the Russian government denied reports that Putin was going to leave the summit early.

He departed on Sunday toward the end of the summit. He attended the final lunch, French news agency Agence France-Presse reported. Putin praised discussions as "constructive," AFP said.

Criticism over Crimea, MH17

The pressure on Putin continued Sunday, with Obama and the leaders of Japan and Australia issuing a statement expressing opposition to "Russia's purported annexation of Crimea and its actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine."

Western countries and the Ukrainian government in Kiev accuse Moscow of sending troops and military equipment into eastern Ukraine to help pro-Russian separatists fighting against government forces. Russian officials have persistently denied their military is involved.

The statement also called for the prosecution of those responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

The MH17 disaster, in which a passenger jet carrying 298 people was shot down over eastern Ukraine, is a particularly sensitive subject in Australia. The country lost 38 of its citizens and residents in the crash.

Cool reception

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had promised ahead of the G20 summit to confront Putin over the disaster and demand that Russia "fully cooperate with the criminal investigation" to find out who shot down the plane.

Putin's standing in Australia was made clear by his reception when he arrived in the country Friday.

The Russian leader stepped off his flight from Moscow to be greeted by Australia's deputy defense secretary, a junior minister in Abbott's cabinet. Standing nearby was a much bigger political personage, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis.

But Brandis made no attempt to greet Putin. Not long afterward, however, Brandis was filmed enthusiastically welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

When Abbott and Putin met at the event, they shook hands, exchanged a few words and smiled.

Abbott said Sunday that he has "some differences" with the Russian government, but that he was happy to treat Putin "with respect and courtesy" as a guest in Australia.

'Ice Cold War'

Meanwhile, the Saturday edition of a local newspaper, The Courier Mail, displayed a giant front page graphic of a Russian bear, complete with fur hat, matching up against a boxing kangaroo, above the headline "Ice Cold War."

Inside, splashed across two pages, was quote after quote from Abbott, reportedly revealing details of his 20-minute conversation with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Beijing earlier in the week.

Abbott said he told Putin that he should stop trying to "recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the Soviet Union," and he accused Russia of stepping up its aggression, which was part of a "regrettable pattern."

Adding an extra edge to the atmosphere, Moscow deployed four naval warships near Australia in the lead-up to the G20 meetings, the semiofficial Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. One of the ships, the Varyag, was once named "Red Ukraine."

The news agency said it was not uncommon for Russian warships to accompany the country's leaders on foreign trips.

Warnings from West

The Ukraine crisis has led to a broader souring of relations between Russia and the West.

Tensions inched up between Moscow and Washington this week following Russia's announcement Wednesday that it plans to send long-range bombers on flights to the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. government says no present security concerns warrant such maneuvers.

Putin and Cameron met face-to-face in Brisbane on Saturday, and the Ukraine crisis "dominated the conversation," according to a statement from the Kremlin.

If Putin continues down the same path on Ukraine, Russia will continue to be isolated, Obama said.

"It is not our preference to see Russia isolated the way it is," he said.

Putin blasts sanctions

The United States and European countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine.

Putin criticized those measures in comments Thursday to the Russian news agency TASS, saying they undermine "the whole system of international economic relations."

"They run counter to the very principle of G20 activities, and not only the activities of the G20 and its principles, they run counter to international law, because sanctions may be introduced only through the United Nations and its Security Council," Putin said.

The G20's job is actually to focus on financial and economic matters. Ukraine is not officially on the agenda, but it has loomed large over the gathering, overshadowing Australia's plans for the meetings.

Abbott tried to get the tough talk with Putin out of the way earlier in the week at APEC, in an attempt to keep the G20 focused on economic growth, said Michael Kofman, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Australia "did not want the summit ruined by the Russia issue," Kofman told CNN. "But quite the opposite happened."

November 17 2014, 04:17

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