, BRISBANE, Nov 15 – Russian President Vladimir Putin is to walk out of a G20 summit in Australia, an aide said Saturday, after he faced scorn and scepticism from Western leaders over Ukraine despite venturing to paper over Europe’s deepest chill in relations since the Cold War.
The abrupt decision threatens to upend the annual summit’s focus on revamping the global economy and fixing sores such as the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.
“The programme of the second day (Sunday) is changing, it’s being cut short,” a source in the Russian delegation told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Putin will attend summit sessions on Sunday but will skip an official lunch and address reporters earlier than planned, the source said, adding: “Lunch is more of an entertainment.”
The Group of 20 nations, which includes the United States and China, found agreement in vowing to “extinguish” the Ebola outbreak — albeit without any promise of hard cash — as it worked to reboot growth in the world economy after the shock of the 2008 financial crisis.
But Ukraine represents the most pressing test of the club’s ability to marry its economic heft to diplomatic troubleshooting, given the Cold War-style divisions between Russia and the West exposed by the former Soviet satellite’s separatist crisis.
There was no immediate comment from the G20’s Australian hosts or other delegations such as US President Barack Obama’s to Putin’s decision, which came after some testy exchanges in Brisbane on Saturday.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was approached by Putin to shake hands. Harper said, according to Canadian media: “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.”
Before his own tense meeting with Putin on the G20 sidelines, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia faced a choice, with one option to implement an agreement to allow stability to return to Ukraine free of Moscow’s meddling.
“It’s important to warn of the dangers if Russia continues to head in the other direction,” Cameron said, bluntly warning that Putin had failed to serve Russia’s own interests by exposing it to punishing Western sanctions.
“If that path continues and if that destabilisation gets worse, the rest of the world, Europe, America, Britain, will have no choice but to take further action in terms of sanctions,” he said.
G20 host Tony Abbott went into a week of Asia-Pacific summitry vowing to confront Putin, particularly over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine in July.
– Koala diplomacy –
In the event, on Saturday, the Australian prime minister was all smiles as he posed for a handshake with a similarly grinning Putin — before the two leaders were photographed holding koala bears together.
However, the koala diplomacy was followed by less cuddly formal talks on the G20 sidelines between Putin and Western leaders including Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.
Beyond the Ukraine issue, Russia is at odds with France over a long-delayed deal to transfer two French warships to the Russian navy.
But the deal was not raised by Putin in his separate bilateral meeting with Hollande, a French source said, and the two leaders appeared at pains to talk about potential for finding common ground before news of Putin’s bombshell departure emerged.
In contrast, there was concordance at the G20 on the need to turn back an outbreak of Ebola that has so far claimed more than 5,000 lives across eight countries, particularly in west Africa.
“G20 members are committed to do what is necessary to ensure the international effort can extinguish the outbreak and address its medium-term economic and humanitarian costs,” the leaders said.
However, there was no G20 cash commitment to back up the statement.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned the secondary impacts of the health crisis could include serious disruption to farming in the west African countries that “could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region”.
Ban also echoed former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s fears that tensions between Russia and the West had brought the world to the brink of a new Cold War, and described climate change as “the defining issue of our times”.
But Abbott — who is sceptical about man-made climate change — has fought hard against mentioning global warming in the G20’s closing statement.
However, Obama said a Sino-US breakthrough in Beijing this week on reducing carbon emissions proves that a post-Kyoto deal to arrest climate change is achievable, as he unveiled a $3 billion pledge to a UN-backed climate mitigation fund.
“If China and the US can agree on this, then the world can agree on this — we can get this done,” he said in a speech in Brisbane.