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May 28, 2017

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Ukraine unrest carries sanctions: G7 to Putin

BRUSSELS -- World leaders urged Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to stop destabilizing Ukraine or face further sanctions as they met without a Russian president for the first time since the 1990s.

Putin reached out a hand despite being banned from the Group of Seven summit following Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, saying that he was ready to meet Ukraine's president-elect.

But G7 leaders said that while they still hoped for "constructive" talks with Putin on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in France on Friday, Moscow could face further punitive measures.

In a joint communique they said Putin must recognize the results of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, won by Petro Poroshenko, stem destabilization in the east of the country, and pull Russian troops back from the border.

"Actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop," the group said.

"We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require."

Other G7 leaders whose economies are more exposed to Russia than Washington took a softer tone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that European leaders would "take stock" of Russian actions at a summit end June and "reflect which further sanctions are necessary."

But Merkel, who is due to meet Putin in France, said that "the main thing is to be constructive" and that further sanctions would take effect only if there had been "no progress whatsoever."

French President Francois Hollande — who is scheduled to have separate dinners with both Putin and Obama in Paris on Thursday — agreed that "dialogue and de-escalation must be encouraged."

Putin hinted that he could meet both Poroshenko and even Obama, saying "I don't plan to avoid anyone." But he taunted the United States and waved away allegations of Russian military meddling in eastern Ukraine.

"Proof? Let's see it!" he said. "The entire world remembers the U.S. secretary of state demonstrating the evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the U.N. Security Council."

Obama on Thursday said he had "expressed some concerns" to France about its sale of warships to Russia.

"I have expressed some concerns, and I don't think I am alone," Obama said at a news conference in reply to a question about France's controversial decision to go ahead with a deal to sell two Mistral warships to Russia despite events in Ukraine.

"I think it would have been preferable to press the pause button," he added.

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