Russia’s foreign minister met with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time Monday and demanded more autonomy for Ukraine’s regions, even as Ukraine under pressure ordered its troops out from Crimea after the Russian seizure of military bases there.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an unexpected move agreed to the highest-level meeting yet between the Russian government and a representative of the new Ukrainian government that Moscow has opposed vociferously over the past month.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in the Hague, Netherlands.
Lavrov told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia that Russia continues to want constitutional changes in Ukraine that would give more autonomy to all regions of Ukraine.
Russia is eager to retain its influence in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. It has pushed for the new Ukraine to become a loose federation — demands the new Ukrainian government has rejected.
Meanwhile, seeking to isolate Russia, the U.S. and Western allies declared Monday they are indefinitely cutting Moscow out of a major international coalition and warned they stand ready to order tougher economic penalties if Vladimir Putin presses further into Ukraine.
The moves came amid a flurry of diplomatic jockeying as the West grappled for ways to punish Russia for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and prevent the crisis from escalating.
President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan met in the Netherlands for an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven. In a joint statement after their 90-minute meeting, the leaders said they were suspending their participation with Russia in the Group of Eight major industrial nations until Moscow “changes course.”
The G-7 leaders instead plan to meet this summer in Brussels, symbolically gathering in the headquarters city of the European Union and NATO, two Western organizations seeking to bolster ties with Ukraine.