Staff WriterThe Group of Eight (G8), a government forum for the world's leading and most industrious nations, have elected to remove Russia from its ranks as a result of their annexation of Crimea. Tougher sanctions against the country have also been proposed, should Putin choose to continue with his aggressive antics. Meeting for the first time since addressing the crisis in Ukraine last month, President Obama sat down with the leaders of Europe's four strongest economies (Germany, France, Italy and the U.K.) as well as leaders from Japan and Canada for a two-hour closed meeting, discussing nuclear security to "project a united front against Moscow," as reported by the New York Times. No further sanctions against Russia or the "vital sectors of [the Russian] economy" have been brought to light, though the coalition has stated that any further provocation from Russia, such troops being deployed in the Ukrainian mainland, would result in harsher consequences. The joint statement resulting from the meeting is now called the Hague Declaration. Though critics were quick to proclaim that the declaration showed a lack of dedication to undoing Putin's warlike actions against Crimea, officials have stated that the act was "largely symbolic". As stated by a senior official to the Obama administration: “The biggest hammer that can drop is sectoral sanctions, and the clearest trigger for those is eastern and southern Ukraine,” The G8 had initially been hesitant to exclude Russia from the group at the onset of the Crimea crisis, stating it as a premature action not advisable at the time. Now, with such a collective and powerful statement against the communist nation, the allied nations of the West and East have made a firm stand, opposing Russia's tactics and lack of regard for international concerns. The group, now only seven strong (G7), also announced that they would not be attending a meeting that was planned to occur in Sochi, instead choosing to assemble this coming June in Brussels, which houses the NATO headquarters as well as the European Union. As stated by the seven nations, “We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for the Obama administration, went on record declaring, “As long as it is flagrantly violating international law and the order the G-7 has helped build since the end of the Cold War, there is no reason to engage with Russia,” He added, “What Russia has done has been a violation of that entire international order built up over many decades.” This is a relevant point, as Russia was desperate to join the Group of Eight after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin seemed to take his participation in the group with particular seriousness, having renovated a czarist-era palace outside of St. Petersburg when asked to play host, as well as adding several lavish mansions for the visiting leaders to stay in. Their attitude seems to have changed, however. Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, said when representing Putin at the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague, Netherlands, where the G8's decision was confirmed: “If our Western partners believe the format has exhausted itself, we don’t cling to this format.” Lavrov went on to add, "“We don’t believe it will be a big problem if it doesn’t convene. The G-8 is an informal club. No one hands out membership cards, and no one can be kicked out of it.” Other future meetings are planned, wherein President Obama and his fellow leaders will discuss how to best persuade Putin to remove his forces from eastern Ukraine. Hopefully Russia's once-powerful desire to be integrated into the global economy will forestall or eventually end further actions in Crimea or elsewhere. Michael A. McFaul, the recently-departed U.S. ambassador to Moscow, said of the decision, “Obviously, it’s mostly symbolic, but symbols do matter," saying of Russia, "The G-8 was something they wanted to be part of. This for them was a symbol of being part of the big-boy club, the great power club — and the club of democracies, I might add.” In spite of doing potential harm to its economy, Germany was one of the most vocal nations in its rejections of Putin's actions. Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, as well as her foreign minister, had the most contact with Putin and his panel during the crisis, and has steadfastly denounced their decisions. Per a German official on behalf of Merkel, "The cost is far greater for the Russians, who stand much more to lose,” Despite Russia's incursion, as well as their insistence that Crimea has effectively been a Russian territory since the 18th century, the EU has gone ahead with readying funds amounting to over €11 billion, stating that it is intended to reduce, "Ukraine’s economic vulnerabilities, and better integrating the country as a market economy in the multilateral system.” Per the new Hague Declaration: “We remain united in our commitment to provide strong financial backing to Ukraine,” Many European nations are reliant on Russia for natural gas, and have stated that they intend to seek out means of reducing their dependency on Russian energy by June of this year, though completing such a task is likely to take much longer. Stay tuned for further updates regarding the Hague Declaration as they come to light.
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