Putin under fire over Ukraine at G20 summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin faced Western scorn and scepticism over Ukraine at a G20 summit in Australia on Saturday, underscoring the deepest chill in relations with the West since the Cold War.

Putin under fire over Ukraine at G20 summit

Brisbane: Russian President Vladimir Putin faced Western scorn and scepticism over Ukraine at a G20 summit in Australia on Saturday, underscoring the deepest chill in relations with the West since the Cold War.

At one stage, a member of the Russian delegation told AFP Putin would cut short his visit by skipping the annual summit`s final lunch, upending a meeting focused on revamping the global economy and addressing the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.

But the Kremlin quickly stepped in to deny the Russian leader was leaving early under pressure over the Ukraine crisis.

"The G20 summit will be over tomorrow (Sunday), Putin will certainly leave it, when all the work is completed the president will leave," Putin`s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Russian radio, without specifying whether the Russian leader would attend the lunch.

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 German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Brisbane that the tensions over Ukraine were hindering efforts to boost economic growth.

"It`s clear that these geopolitical tensions, including relations with Russia, are not really conducive to promoting growth," she said. "We are all striving to do everything diplomatically possible to see improvements."

Ukraine is 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 to Putin`s apparent desire to leave early, which came after some testy exchanges in Brisbane.

A Kremlin statement said Putin held "rather lengthy and detailed discussions" with Merkel and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Junker.

"An exchange of opinions on the situation in the southeast of Ukraine took place" in the meeting between Putin and Merkel, the Kremlin said. "Vladimir Putin in detail explained Russia`s approach to the situation."

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. 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 talks on the G20 sidelines. 

When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was approached by Putin to shake hands he 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."

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.

Across the globe in London, the Ebola crisis got some help from rock music stars Bob Geldof, One Direction, Bono and around 30 others. They gathered in a studio to record a 30th anniversary version of the Band Aid charity single to raise money to fight the deadly virus.

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.