LIVERPOOL – The Group of Seven economic powers told Russia on Sunday to “de-escalate” its military buildup near the Ukrainian border, warning that an invasion would have “massive consequences” and inflict severe economic pain on Moscow.
Foreign ministers from the United States, Britain and the rest of the G-7, joined by the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, issued a joint statement declaring themselves “united in our condemnation of Russia’s military buildup and aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine.”
The G-7 called on Russia to “de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels, and abide by its international commitments on transparency of military activities,” and praised Ukraine’s “restraint.”
“Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law. Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response,” the statement said.
Russia’s movement of weapons and troops to the border region dominated weekend talks among foreign ministers from the G-7 wealthy democracies in the English city of Liverpool.
The U.S. and it allies worry that the buildup could be precursor to an invasion, and have vowed to inflict heavy sanctions on Russia’s economy if that happens.
Moscow denies having any plans to attack Ukraine and accuses Kyiv of its own allegedly aggressive designs.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the conference host, said the G-7 was sending a “powerful signal to our adversaries and our allies.”
The statement promised a “common and comprehensive response” but contained no details. Truss said the G-7 was “considering all options” when it came to economic sanctions. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on NBC's “Meet the Press” that “we are prepared to take the kinds of steps we’ve refrained from taking in the past” if Russia didn't step back.
The U.S. and its allies have played down talk of a military response to defend Ukraine, with efforts focusing on tough sanctions that would hit the Russian economy, rather than just individuals.
In the U.S., reporters asked President Joe Biden on Saturday about the possibility of sending combat troops to Ukraine, and he said that idea was never considered. “Are you ready to send American troops into war and go into Ukraine to fight Russians on the battlefield?” he said.
Biden, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on a video call last week, said he had made clear that in the event of an invasion, “the economic consequences for his economy are going to be devastating. Devastating.”
Truss said Biden had made clear to Putin that the U.S. stance “carries the support of the G-7 countries as a whole. And that should be very concerning for Vladimir Putin.”
China’s muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region and the ailing Iran nuclear deal were also on the agenda for the meeting of top diplomats from the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan at the dockside Museum of Liverpool.
Getting a unified response to global crises from the G-7, a group of countries with disparate interests, has often proved tough.
Germany plans on getting gas from Russia soon through the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine — though Blinken said it was hard to see the pipeline becoming operational “if Russia has renewed its aggression on Ukraine, if it takes renewed action."
“So I think President Putin has to factor that in, too, as he’s thinking about what he’s going to do next,” he said.
Britain, which isn't dependent on Russian gas, also has criticized the pipeline — but faces tricky questions about London’s financial district and property market, both hubs for Russian money.
U.K. bank and financial authorities have long been criticized for allegedly turning a blind eye to ill-gotten gains.
Truss insisted Britain has “very strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering rules,” but also suggested that Russian money and Russian gas came at a high price.
“We cannot have short term economic gain at the expense of our long term freedom and democracy,” she said.
G-7 nations are also increasingly concerned about China’s growing economic and technological dominance, especially in developing countries. The G-7 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.
Truss, who also invited ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the Liverpool meeting, said the G-7 was “concerned about the coercive economic policies of China.”
"What we’ve set out is a positive agenda about making sure that countries have alternative sources of investment, alternative sources of trade,” she said. “And that we’re making sure that we abide by — and ensure others are abiding by — the rules based international system” for trade.
A unified stance towards China continues to prove elusive, however, with the U.S. and Britain generally more hawkish than other G-7 members.
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this story.