Foreign minister of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised nations gathered in the British city of Liverpool have sought to demonstrate “a show of unity against global aggressors”, with the host, the United Kingdom, expressing deep concern about the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border.
The UK is seeking elusive consensus from the wealthy nations’ club in response to what it calls “malign behaviour” by Russia, and over tensions with China and Iran.
“We need to defend ourselves against the growing threats from hostile actors,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said as she opened the meeting of foreign ministers from the UK, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. “And we need to come together strongly to stand up to aggressors who are seeking to limit the bounds of freedom and democracy.”
The US and its NATO allies are concerned that the movement of Russian troops and weapons to the border region with Ukraine may be a prelude to an invasion and have said they would inflict heavy sanctions on Russia’s economy if that happens.
Moscow denies planning to attack Ukraine and accuses Kyiv of its own allegedly aggressive designs. The Kremlin has said it is alarmed by a Western push to supply Ukraine with high-tech weapons that it claims are being used by Kyiv to provoke Moscow.
On Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Russian demands to withdraw its invitation to Ukraine to join the military alliance.
Truss and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed how to deter Russia from “further aggression against Ukraine” in a one-on-one meeting, the US Department of State said. The UK said the two warned that a Russian incursion “would be a strategic mistake for which there would be serious consequences”.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Liverpool, said among all the issues and threats that the delegates have been discussing include China, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and COVID – but “none have dominated like the issue of Russia”.
“Liz Truss is trying to position herself as a kind of unifier of the free world,” Challands said.
“She has said we have to deter Russia from taking that course of action (invading Ukraine),” he added.
The Department of State announced on Saturday that the top American diplomat for Europe, Karen Donfried, will visit both Kyiv and Moscow next week “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” and to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
After meeting with Ukrainian and Russian officials, Donfried will go on to Brussels to talk with NATO and European Union allies.
Attempting to rally unity among disparate the G7 club of wealthy nations, Truss said that “free democratic nations” must wean themselves off Russian gas and Russian money to preserve their independence.
She said she wanted to work with other countries “to make sure that free democratic nations are able to have an alternative to Russian gas supplies”, a reference to the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was built to carry gas from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.
Truss met Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, a politician from the environmentalist Greens who previously opposed Nord Stream 2, on the sidelines of the gathering.
The UK which is not particularly dependent on Russian gas, has been a critic of the pipeline. But London’s financial district and property market are major hubs for Russian money, and UK authorities have long been accused of turning a blind eye to ill-gotten funds from around the world.
Truss insisted the UK is willing to consider new economic measures to protect its “core values,” saying “cheap energy or cheap financing” could have “a long-term cost for freedom and democracy”.
The weekend meeting at the dockside Museum of Liverpool is the final major event of the UK’s year-long G7 presidency. The diplomats in Liverpool also plan to discuss lagging efforts to vaccinate the world against coronavirus, tensions in the western Balkans, Afghanistan and North Korea, and China’s muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region.
The gathering is taking place as negotiators meet in Vienna to try to revive the nuclear deal that seeks to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Blinken met German, French and British diplomats in Liverpool to discuss next steps over Iran, and the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, Robert Malley also stopped in the city on his way to Vienna.
Truss also invited ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the Liverpool meeting, though many were joining remotely because of the pandemic.
Truss told her G7 counterparts that democracies needed to fight “economic coercion” and “win the battle of technology” – both pointed references to Beijing’s growing influence around the globe.
The G7 has launched a “Build Back Better World” initiative to offer developing nations funding for big infrastructure projects as an alternative to money from China that, the West argues, often comes with strings attached.