(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first to leave a G20 summit in Australia Sunday, but he dismissed suggestions he was doing so in response to flak over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
“Ukraine was not discussed in any official context during the G20 discussions,” he said. “The issue did not come up at all and was not even mentioned.” (Ukraine does not feature in the end-of-summit communique.)
Putin said his bilateral meetings, on the other hand, had dealt substantively with Ukraine. He described those talks as frank and useful – even adding the adjective “friendly” to describe the meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
As for leaving early, Putin said he had a long flight back to Moscow, and hoped to get a few hours’ sleep before being “ready for work on Monday.”
Several leaders, including President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister David Cameron and host Tony Abbott challenged Putin in meetings on the summit sidelines over Ukraine, where a crisis that first erupted almost a year ago has once again escalated in recent weeks.
But if he found the pressure uncomfortable, Putin gave little sign of it when he spoke to reporters in Brisbane before flying out – skipping a working breakfast and leaving before the leaders had released the summit’s closing communique.Putin said when he arrived in Australia “I realized there had been some attempts to raise the tension when I looked through the local press and other media outlets.” But those portrayals had been far from reality, he added.
“I’m very happy with the result and with the atmosphere [of the summit].”
And before even being asked about his early departure, Putin explained his decision – “to avoid gossip and speculation” – by saying he had two consecutive nine-hour flights ahead of him, and hoped to get four or five hours sleep before being “ready for work on Monday.”
“I went to Tony [Abbot] and explained the situation to him. He was understanding about the whole thing,” Putin said. “There is nothing more to the situation. I said goodbye to some of my other colleagues too. I think that our work here is over now and has ended successfully.”
(Abbott on Monday described his discussion with Putin as “very candid and very robust.” Last month he pledged to give Putin a tough reception, especially over the July 17 shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over eastern Ukraine. Twenty-eight Australians were among the 298 victims, and Abbott said they had been “murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment.”)
In contrast to Putin's breezy tone, Obama used stronger than usual language during a press conference in Brisbane, telling reporters his interactions with Putin in recent days, both in Australia and in China, had been “businesslike and blunt” and suggesting Russian actions in Ukraine this year amounted to an invasion.
Obama spoke of the need to uphold core international principles, one of which was that “you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”
Amid stepped-up fighting and sightings of new armed convoys in separatist-controlled areas, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union accuse Russia of violating elements of a ceasefire reached last September between Kiev, Moscow and the pro-Russian rebels.
E.U. foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to consider whether to impose additional sanctions on Russia
Obama in Brisbane gave no indication of plans to do so, saying that “at this point the sanctions we have are biting plenty good.”
In his press conference, Putin said he had discussed in his various meetings “the view that sanctions are harmful for everyone concerned, for those hit by the sanctions and for those who impose them.”