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G7 leaders to discuss Ukraine crisis at Brussels talks

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The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) will this week deliberate their next steps in response to the enduring unrest in Ukraine, after sidelining Russia for its role in the crisis.

Ukraine has seen a descent into violence since February, when president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country following mass protests over his reluctance to seek closer ties with the European Union.

The international community has accused Russia of fomenting separatist unrest in the former Soviet country, including through the annexation of its Crimean peninsula.

“We have not yet seen Russia take the steps that are necessary to reduce … tensions,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor of US President Barack Obama, said Friday.

Obama will join his counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan at the G7 summit on Wednesday and Thursday.

The European Union will also be represented at the talks.

The group of industrialized nations decided to meet in the Belgian capital Brussels after snubbing a Group of Eight (G8) summit that was to be hosted by Russia this month.

At their last talks in April, the G7 leaders had agreed to proceed with sanctions against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.

Russia will continue to face international isolation and sanctions if it does not use its “influence” on the Ukraine separatists to end the violence and does not engage in dialogue with the Ukrainian government, Rhodes warned.

Obama will meet Ukraine’s newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, on Wednesday morning in Poland, which the US leader is visiting ahead of the G7 summit.

“We expect the Russian Federation to cooperate with the newly elected and legitimate president,” EU leaders said in a joint statement last week, urging Moscow to also continue withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border and to pressure separatists into de—escalation.

The West had threatened Russia with more sanctions if it tried to thwart the May 25 elections that delivered a victory for Poroshenko.

But the EU has described the polls as “successful” and “genuine.” “The turnout was good, and the outcome was clear,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy, who will be representing the bloc at the G7 meeting along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, said last week.

Rhodes, meanwhile, praised Poroshenko for his “commitment to pursue dialogue … to reduce tensions and put Ukraine on a positive path.” The G7 leaders are expected to discuss Ukraine and other foreign policy issues over dinner on Wednesday. The Iran nuclear negotiations are also likely to be on the agenda, Rhodes said.

Talks on economic, energy, climate and development issues are expected to follow Thursday.

G7 energy ministers last month agreed to work on a long—term strategy to wean Europe off its dependency on Russian gas supplies. Fears are rife that escalating tensions may lead Moscow to cut off gas deliveries passing through Ukraine on their way to Europe.

In 2012, 66 per cent of the EU’s natural gas was imported, with more than a third stemming from Russia. Six of the bloc’s 28 countries — Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia — depend on Russia for all of their gas imports.

“The crisis in Ukraine is a wake—up call for Europe to reassess its energy mix,” the Oxfam campaign group said, calling on G7 leaders to avoid “fake solutions like shale gas, surplus coal or tar sands,” and work instead on curbing demand and boosting renewable energy use.

Many European countries also have strong trade and business ties with Russia. The EU has so far steered clear of economic sanctions against Moscow amid concerns over repercussions for the European economy.

It has, however, prepared three scenarios that could be deployed if needed, ranging from low—intensity economic sanctions affecting items such as luxury goods to tougher measures such as a ban on oil and gas imports.

“If there are further destabilization actions by Russia, more sanctions are not impossible,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned after the summit with her EU counterparts last week.

Obama’s presence at the G7 talks is expected to bring about strict security measures in Brussels, which is hosting such a meeting for the first time. It is taking place just over a week after three people were killed in a shooting at the city’s Jewish Museum.

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