Despite the carping of his diplomatic approach by critics at home and abroad, President Barack Obama forged out of much disarray a consensus on serious next steps to deal with President Putin and Russian aggression in Ukraine. The announced results included the establishment of a one-month deadline for Moscow to reverse its intervention in Ukraine and to help quash a pro-Russian separatist uprising. If it did not, Obama said, Russia would face international sanctions far more severe than anything it has endured so far.
Further, President Obama and the other G7 leaders called for Putin to recognize and negotiate directly with Poroshenko, Ukraine’s newly elected leader. They also called on Putin to stop the flow of fighters and arms across the border, and to press separatists to disarm, relinquish seized public buildings, and join talks with the central authorities in Kiev. What could not be fully achieved in the earlier EU and NATO meetings was hammered out with this smaller and more informal and senior group.
“Russia continues to have a responsibility to convince [the separatists] to end their violence, lay down their weapons and enter into a dialogue with the Ukrainian government,” President Obama said at a news conference alongside Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain after a meeting with G7 leaders. “On the other hand, if Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia.”
Mr. Obama set out a time frame, stating that “the process could not drag out” “We will have a chance to see what Mr. Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks…and if he remains on the current course, then we’ve already indicated what kinds of actions that we’re prepared to take. It is assumed that any new sanctions would be broader, cutting off dealings with whole sectors of the economy like finance and energy.
After such a statement, the scene shifted quickly to the D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, where the leaders gathered for the historic 70th anniversary of the Allied landings. President Putin attended these events to commemorate the Soviet Union’s contribution to the Allied victory in Europe. Press reports have said that there was a fifteen minute exchange of “informal views” between the Russian and American presidents, but it is worth noting that TV images of the two showed both detached and glum.
The question that remains is whether – given their well-known hesitation on added sanctions and the sacrifice of lucrative business with Russia – President Obama and his fellow G7 leaders will act as agreed when the time comes. There was much irony to the G7’s stance, the recent statements by key European leaders that they will continue do business with a Putin-led Russia, and the bright skies with the thousands of white tombstones marking the cemetery above the bluffs of the Normandy beaches where our nations fought together side by side against the Nazis.
One had to wonder if these leaders understood the significance and clashing irony in their actions. Just the day before, the G7 had hammered out a new course of action – President Obama’s strong leadership was key here – in a peaceful but shaky post-elections Europe. It is not clear whether the future Europe will be discordant, with some leaders protecting their financial interests and conducting business with a nation that supports the killing of unarmed citizens in Ukraine, in Syria and at home.
Obama has, over good Brussels food, achieved what many thought he could not. Those who push for him to be more militarily-focused should take note: his achievements were not with U.S. troops and dangerous military activities, but with the diplomacy of sanctions and face-to-face meetings of key leaders. The next move is up to Putin and that, as always, remains unpredictable.
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