Obama In Brussels For G-7 Meeting

Conspicuously absent from the get-together is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was scratched from the guest list as punishment for Russia's interference in Ukraine.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. President Obama is meeting in Brussels today with other world leaders - some of them. Conspicuously absent from this get-together is Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who was disinvited as punishment for Russia's interference it Ukraine, which was a major subject of the world leaders who did attend. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what are the other leaders saying about Ukraine?

HORSLEY: Well, the very first paragraph of the joint statement from the G7 -that's the G8 minus Russian - welcome the election in Ukraine of Petro Poroshenko as the new president. He's due to be sworn in on Saturday. And the White House sees that as an opportunity for the various players to change direction and begin to defuse the Ukrainian crisis. Obama met with the incoming president yesterday, and afterwards, he spoke admiringly of Poroshenko's capacity to unify his fractured country.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He understands the aspirations and the hopes of the Ukrainian people. And when I say the Ukrainian people, I mean all of the Ukrainian people.

HORSLEY: Obama also said he was impressed by Poroshenko's experience as a businessman. The president-elect made a fortune in the chocolate industry. And that could be helpful because Ukraine's economy needs a lot of work.

INSKEEP: Now when the president says, and I mean all the Ukrainian people, that could be taken as a reference to, among other things, Crimea, which is still under Russian control. How are the G7 - and it's back down to the G7, I know - addressing that?

HORSLEY: Well, in their statement, the leaders condemned Russia's ongoing interference in Ukraine and its violation of sovereignty in Crimea. And they held out a threat of additional economic sanctions against Russia. There was, however, no agreement on exactly what might trigger additional sanctions. Some of the countries are relieved that Russia has endorsed the election of Poroshenko and pulled some of its troops back from the border. Others argue that to avoid further sanctions, Vladimir Putin has to go further and use his influence to get the armed separatist in eastern Ukraine to lay down their weapons.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask about another thing, Scott Horsley? The G7 leaders were supposed talk about energy, supposed to talk about climate change. But of course, when you talk about Europe and energy, you're still talking about Russia, which supply so much natural gas.

HORSLEY: That's right. Russia has been able to use its energy resources as a weapon, both oppositely and defensively. And that's one reason some Europeans have been reluctant to impose tougher economic sanctions. But the Ukrainian crisis has given Europe a big push to start looking elsewhere for alternative sources of energy, including, for example, liquefied natural gas from the United States. Not something that's going to happen overnight, obviously, but analyst, Heather Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says over time, that could be a real strategic blow to Russia.

HEATHER CONLEY: Long-term, you'd never like to chase your best customer away until you've secured another replacement customer. And so it will be very interesting, in the medium-term to long-term, how this plays out for Mr. Putin, whose state budget is so reliant on energy revenues.

INSKEEP: Let's talk a little bit more about Mr. Putin, the man who was absent from the summit. Isn't he going to get a chance to talk with the other G7 leaders anyway, later in the week?

HORSLEY: He will. Putin will be meeting privately this week with the leaders of France, Britain and Germany. They're all going to be in France tomorrow, along with President Obama, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Now, White House aides have shrugged off those private meetings with the other leaders, saying the question is not whether leaders meet with Putin, but rather the message that they convey in those meetings. The U.S. says there needs to be a unified message directed towards Russia. As often is the case though with the G7, it's possible to give the appearance of harmony, the appearance of a unified message, even though each of the countries is actually carrying a slightly different tune.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks as always.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley in Brussels.

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