Russian President Vladimir Putin made an early exit on Sunday from a two-day summit of world leaders where he was roundly criticized over Russia’s escalating aggression in Ukraine, but brushed off suggestions that he had felt pressured.
Putin was the first leader to fly out of Brisbane on Sunday afternoon as his fellow leaders in the G-20 club of wealthy and developing nations shared a lunch and before they released the communique to cap off their annual summit.
He also departed Australia shortly before President Barack Obama and European leaders opened their talks on Ukraine, where Russia is backing separatist rebels in the east of the country after annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In July, A Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down, killing all 298 people on board, while flying over a rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine.
Putin explained he left early because he wanted to be rested before returning to work. He began the half-hour news conference by praising his host, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, for providing a “nice, welcoming and good working atmosphere.”
“On Monday I must go to work. I hope to have four or five hours to sleep,” Putin said shortly before leaving Brisbane. “I told this to Tony and he was very understanding so I didn’t give it a second thought.”
New Corp. newspapers in Australia reported Sunday that Putin was the day before considering an early departure in response to the cold shoulder from world leaders. But Abbott’s office said the early afternoon exit had been scheduled.
The U.S., Australia and Japan issued a statement condemning Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reacted to an offer of a handshake from Putin by responding, “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.”
Putin said Ukraine was never mentioned during the official G-20 meetings, but was brought up at every meeting with other leaders he attended on the sidelines.
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— The Associated Press