No 'great tragedy' if Russia expelled from G8: Lavrov
THE HAGUE - Agence France-Presse
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives to attend an official dinner at the Royal Palace Huis ten Bosch in The Hague, March 24. AFP photoRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said March 24 he saw no "great tragedy" if Moscow was expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) club of leading nations for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
"If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it. At the very least, we are not trying to hold on to this format, and we see no great tragedy if it [the G8] does not meet," Lavrov told reporters after holding separate talks with both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya.
As Lavrov was speaking, G7 leaders - the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Britain - were meeting nearby to decide whether to inflict further punishment on Moscow for its actions on Crimea.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier it was "absolutely clear" that a planned meeting of the G8 hosted by Russia would not go ahead, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the "political conditions" were not in place for such a gathering.
However, Lavrov was defiant, insisting that Crimea had "a right to self-determination."
Russia's takeover of the region was not "malicious intent," said Lavrov, but was to "protect the Russians who have been living there for hundreds of years."
"We trusted our Western partners for a long time. We have an idea of the value of the promises of our Western partners," he added.
G7 'ready to intensify' sanctions
Meanwhile, the Group of Seven top economic powers said March 24 they are ready to step up sanctions against Russia if Moscow fails to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine that has shaken relations.
"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 G7 said in a statement after crisis talks in The Hague on Russia's absorption of Crimea.
"Diplomatic avenues to de-escalate the situation remain open, and we encourage the Russian government to take them," the statement said, calling on Moscow to begin talks with Ukraine and "avail itself of offers of international mediation."
The G7 leaders condemned Russia's behaviour as "not consistent" with the group's shared beliefs and shared responsibilities.
"We will suspend our participation in the G8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G8 is able to have a meaningful discussion," the statement said.
"We stand firm in our support for the people of Ukraine who seek to restore unity, democracy, political stability, and economic prosperity to their country."