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Moscow thumbs nose as leaders boot Putin from G-8 summit

Russian foreign minister says ‘no great tragedy’ to be left out, as West warns it may ‘intensify actions’

Seeking to isolate Russia, the United States and the world’s other leading economies moved to indefinitely cut Moscow out of G-8 meetings on Monday, including canceling an economic summit that President Vladimir Putin planned to host this summer in Russia.

The moves came amid a flurry of diplomatic jockeying as the U.S. and Europe grappled for ways to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea and to prevent Moscow from pressing further into Ukraine. The major industrial nations of the Group of Seven warned that they were prepared to "intensify actions" against Russia, including ordering more severe economic sanctions, if the Kremlin escalates its incursion into Ukraine.

Russia responded by saying it would not be a terrible loss for Moscow to be expelled from the body.

"If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"At the very least, we are not trying to hold on to this format, and we see no great tragedy if it [the G-8] does not meet," he told reporters after holding concurrent talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya on Monday.

Lavrov's meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart was seen as a bit of a surprise, and it was the highest level of contact between the two nations since Russia moved forces into Crimea nearly a month ago.

U.S. President Barack Obama huddled with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan for an emergency meeting of the G-7. In a joint statement after the evening 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 holding the meeting in the headquarter city of the European Union and NATO, two organizations seeking to strengthen ties with Ukraine.

"Today we reaffirm that Russia's actions will have significant consequences," the statement read. "This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations."

Russia's actions have sparked one of Europe's deepest political crises in decades, drawing comparisons to the Cold War era's tensions between East and West. Obama and other Western leaders have condemned Russia's movements as a violation of international law and have ordered economic sanctions against Putin's close associates, though those measures appear to have done little to change the Russian leader's calculus.

Ahead of the G-7 meeting, the Obama administration stated its intention to press forward on curtailing Russian behavior, saying it saw the platform of powerful nations as a way to coordinate action against Russia.

"So what we want to do is take the G-7 as a platform to coordinate the national actions that we're taking and then to work with our European partners as they formulate responses through the EU and European Council so that we have the strongest unified voice in imposing sanctions," said Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, at Monday's press briefing.

"The more we coordinate the designation of individuals and entities and potentially sectors of the Russian economy, the more that's going to have an impact on Russia," he said.

His words were echoed in the declaration released after the G-7 meeting.

"We remain ready to intensify actions, including coordinated sectoral sanctions, that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy if Russia continues to escalate this situation," the group's statement read. 

Hours before world leaders began meeting in The Hague, Russian forces stormed a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, the third such action in three days. Ukraine's fledgling government responded by ordering its troops to pull back from the strategically important peninsula.

Under criticism for his often-hesitant reaction to Russia's annexation of Crimea, Ukraine's acting defense minister, Igor Tenyukh, announced his resignation on Tuesday. Tenyukh rejected accusations that he had failed to issue clear instructions to troops, but said Tuesday that he reserved the right to step down.

Parliament initially rejected his resignation, but later accepted it.

In the U.S. the Senate moved toward a vote on Russian sanctions and Ukrainian aid, and Ukraine pushed for the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a resolution, possibly on Thursday, reaffirming the country's territorial integrity and declaring that the referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia "has no validity."

In The Hague, the G-7 leaders also discussed plans for increasing financial assistance to Ukraine's central government.

Obama was expected to seek support from European leaders for deeper sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy, including its energy industry.

But he was expected to face resistance from some European officials. Russia is one of the European Union's largest trading partners, and officials fear that the still economically fragile continent could suffer if Moscow retaliates, particularly by curbing oil and gas supplies.

In another attempt to isolate Russia, Obama held a separate meeting Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country frequently sides with Moscow in disputes with the West.

The U.S. has been appealing to China's vehement opposition to outside intervention in other nations' domestic affairs and scored a symbolic diplomatic win when Beijing abstained a week ago from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring Crimea's secession referendum illegal. With Russia vetoing the measure and the 13 other council members voting in favor, China's abstention served to isolate Moscow internationally.

"I believe, ultimately, that by working together, China and the United States can help strengthen international law and respect for the sovereignty of nations and establish the kind of rules internationally that allow all peoples to thrive," Obama said while standing alongside Xi ahead of their hourlong meeting.

In a counterpoint to Obama and the other G-7 leaders, a group of five major emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — issued a statement Monday opposing sanctions and urging nations to work through the U.N. instead. The so-called BRICS nations said hostile language, sanctions and force do not "contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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