MUENSTER, Germany (AP) — Top diplomats from the world’s major industrialized democracies sought Thursday to expand unified positions on Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s growing global economic clout and Iran’s crackdown on anti-government protestors.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations began two days of talks in the historic western German city of Muenster to take stock of the war in Ukraine and keep up economic, military and other support for the country more than eight months after Russia’s invasion and as winter approaches.
The significance of the venue — the same room in which the Treaty of Westphalia ending Europe's bloody 30 Years War was signed in 1648 — was not lost on the participants, some of whom commented on the relevance of the principles it enshrined in international diplomacy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made reference to the 374-year-old document at an event with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, saying Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a direct attack on the concepts of national sovereignty and territorial integrity that many believe the treaty established.
“These are the very principles that are being challenged today by Russia,” Blinken said. “If we let that be challenged with impunity, then the foundations of the international order will start to erode and eventually crumble, and none of us can afford to let that happen.”
Baerbock opened G-7 meeting at Muenster City Hall by saying the values hashed out in 1648 were the same as those under threat today: “peace and the rule of law.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “actions are plunging the world’s poorest further into despair, putting global food security on the brink and pushing up energy prices,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said. “These actions only serve to demonstrate Putin’s true intentions and further unite the international community against his callous plans.”
“We won’t accept that the Russian president succeeds with his strategy of ... breaking Ukraine,” Baerbock said.
The meeting in Muenster comes nearly a year after the same G-7 nations — the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — banded together to warn Russia of “massive consequences” if it went ahead with plans to invade Ukraine.
Putin denied having such plans, and some nations saw the West's repeated alerts of a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine as exaggerated at the time.
Since delivering the initial warning to Moscow — two months before Russia's invasion was launched in late February — the G-7 has largely followed through with their vow to punish Russia, although sanctions have done little to deter the Kremlin amid soaring energy prices.
Russia has instead escalated its attacks on civilians and infrastructure, sent in more troops, illegally annexed four regions in Ukraine and shown no interest in a diplomatic solution. A senior U.S. official traveling with Blinken said Putin had “doubled down" and, in some cases, “tripled down” on his position.
Although a potential world food crisis was averted Wednesday when Russia agreed to rejoin a wartime agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain exports to global markets, other emergencies loom.
Those include the war's impact on energy supplies, Russia's unfounded claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a radioactive “dirty bomb” and suggestions that Moscow might respond with nuclear weapons. The U.N. nuclear watchdog reported Thursday that inspections of sites in Ukraine had found no evidence to support Russia’s claim that Ukraine planned to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
Meanwhile, the European Union is considering moving forward with price caps on Russian energy imports aimed at further stifling Russia’s income.
The G-7 ministers were also to discuss other issues, including joint approaches to China, which has sided with Russia over Ukraine while also seeking to boost investments in critical and sensitive infrastructure in the West, and Iran, which in addition to conducting a brutal crackdown on protesters is accused of supplying Russia with armed drones and possibly other weapons for use in Ukraine.
Baerbock, the host, said she wanted the group to look in particular at supporting women's rights in Iran, where the protests erupted over the death of a women accused of violating the compulsory wearing of a headscarf.
On China, U.S. officials said the G-7 would be looking to further harmonize their policies related to Chinese investment in their countries as well to caution against antagonistic moves that Beijing might take against Taiwan.
Beijing “is not just a partner on international questions but also a competitor and, much more strongly, a rival, in view of its understanding of the international order,” Baerbock said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is visiting Beijing this week, becoming the first European leader to make the trip since the war in Ukraine began. Chinese investment in a major port project in Germany has raised concerns in Washington and other capitals that China might gain a controlling interest in critical infrastructure in the heart of an allied country.
U.S. officials said they were pleased the Hamburg port contract was amended to reduce China’s stake to a minority position but said it was important that all nations look carefully at proposed Chinese investments and the potential security threats they might bring.
Scholz has pledged to use his trip to make the case for Chinese moderation and assistance in calming the situations with Ukraine and Taiwan.
The G-7 has weathered major changes since the foreign ministers issued their stark pre-war ultimatum to the Kremlin last December. Britain is on its third prime minister, there’s a new far-right-led government in Italy, relations between Germany and France have frayed and control of the U.S. Congress may be about to shift with next week's midterm election.
Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press