The Kremlin has quickly stepped in to deny reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to leave the G20 leaders’ summit in Brisbane earlier than planned.
At one stage, a member of the Russian delegation told news agency AFP that 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 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 on Saturday , without specifying whether the Russian leader would attend the lunch.
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, it 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.
“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 had vowed to confront Putin, particularly over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine in July.
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.”