MOSCOW — The White House has led the charge to isolate Russia after its annexation of Crimea and alleged meddling in Ukraine, but this week the West may be sending mixed signals.
President Obama and other world leaders suspended Russia from the G8, the group of top industrialized nations, deciding to meet as the G7 in Brussels this week without Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But later in the week, Putin will sit down for separate meetings with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Putin will be in France to join President Obama and other European leaders to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. (Hollande has said the invitation has nothing to do with current politics, and is instead a tribute to the millions of Soviet soldiers who died during World War II.)
The Hollande meeting makes some sense, given that the French are hosting the gathering, but the Cameron meeting came more as a surprise. The Kremlin said the two will discuss the situation in Ukraine.
The White House declined to say if the Brits coordinated the meeting in advance. A spokesman had “no comment” when asked if the White House approved of the meeting.
Both the White House and the Kremlin said there are no plans for Putin and Obama to meet, though a Kremlin spokesman said there would likely be informal contacts between the Russian leader and his counterparts during the event. (Ditto for a Putin meeting with Ukraine’s newly elected president, who will also be in Normandy.)
Today, President Obama is in Poland, a visit aimed at showing solidarity with eastern European countries that fear Russian aggression could spread to their borders. He told reporters in Warsaw he would use any encounter with President Putin to stress that Russia must cease its alleged meddling in Ukraine. He said he hopes the French and British leaders will use their meetings to underscore the same message.
President Putin, however, seemed more open to a meeting.
“I’m not going to avoid anyone. I’ll eagerly meet with any of my colleagues,” Putin said last month when asked about the visit.
He brushed off suggestions that the West would be able to isolate his country, calling it “impossible.”
Putin has also previously denied Russia planned to isolate itself amid friction with the West, saying, “you cannot force someone to love you.”
The Obama administration has pushed hard to show an isolated Russia, even trying for a while to spread the Twitter hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The White House leaned on American CEOs to boycott Putin’s showcase economic forum in St. Petersburg and was urging Europe to follow its lead on enacting tough sanctions on Russia.
Both the American business leaders and European countries (which have much more trade with Russia than the U.S. does) have thus far been largely reluctant followers.