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US, allies seek to isolate Russia; Moscow shrugs

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — As the United States redoubled efforts to pressure Russia out of its aggressive pose, the Russian annexation of Crimea began to take root and Moscow shrugged off President Barack Obama's drive to isolate Vladimir Putin's government.

The U.S. and some of its closest allies cut Russia out indefinitely from a major coalition of leading industrial nations and canceled a summer summit Russia was to host in its Olympic village of Sochi. Obama also sought to win backing from other foreign leaders in hopes of ostracizing or even shaming Putin into reversing his acquisition of Crimea and backing away from any designs he might have on other Eastern Europe territory.

In a strongly worded joint statement, the United States, France, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan denounced a referendum in Crimea to secede from Ukraine and Russia's ensuing annexation. In so doing, the seven leaders also effectively excluded Russia from what had been a two-decade-old coalition known as the Group of Eight.

"This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations," the declaration said.

Still, Monday's international gestures in Amsterdam and in The Hague got only a dismissive reaction from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"The G-8 is an informal club," he said. "It has no membership tickets, and it can't purge anyone by definition."

And in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine ordered its troops to pull back from the disputed territory, a clear signal that at least for now the fledgling Ukrainian government in Kiev was ceding to Russia's aggressive tactics.

The showdown between Russia and the West has evoked old Cold War tensions and was sure to dominate questions for Obama on Tuesday when he holds a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It will be Obama's first news conference since Russia made a move on Crimea.

The opportunity for Obama to seek international support came as leaders from around the world already had converged in the Netherlands for a nuclear security summit, initially the featured event at the start of Obama's weeklong, four-country trip.

But Ukraine has so far dominated Obama's side discussions with world leaders and the G-7 members. Even Russia's Lavrov, in The Hague for the nuclear summit, met on the sidelines with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Speaking earlier Monday, with Rutte at his side, Obama called Russia's annexation of the peninsula on the Black Sea a "flagrant breach of international law and we condemn its actions in the strongest possible terms."

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President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron as they participates in a G7 Leaders meeting at Catshuis, the official residence of the Dutch Prime Minister, in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, March 24.

(AP)

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