Barack Obama has accused the Kremlin of resorting to the "dark tactics" of the last century in Ukraine, as European leaders warned of escalating sanctions against Russia if Moscow did not stop facilitating the flow of arms and militants into the east of the country.
Obama and European leaders met in Brussels on Wednesday evening for a two-day summit of the G7 after Russian membership of the G8 was suspended in March because of Vladimir Putin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
The summit was dominated by Ukraine. Before arriving in Brussels – and before travelling to France, where he is expected to meet Putin for the first time since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in February – Obama pledged to resist Russian aggression in eastern Europe.
"The days of empire and spheres of influence are over. Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings," said Obama at the royal palace in Warsaw.
"Further Russian provocations will only mean more isolation and costs for Russia. After investing so much blood and treasure to bring Europe together, how can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?"
Obama invoked the anniversaries this week of the D-Day landings in France in 1944 and the communist bloc's first partly free elections in Poland in 1989 as key events in the fight to free Europe from tyranny.
"We've been reminded by Russia's aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share – a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. We have to work for that."
The American leader sought to allay east European fears that the west was reluctant to commit to the region's security. "As allies, we have a solemn duty to defend your territorial integrity. And we will," he told the Poles.
"We stand together, now and forever, for your freedom is ours. Poland will never stand alone. But not just Poland – Estonia will never stand alone. Latvia will never stand alone. Lithuania will never stand alone. Romania will never stand alone."
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is to meet Putin in France on Friday, demanded that the Russian leader act forcefully to prevent violence in eastern Ukraine, to close the borders to arms and paramilitaries entering Ukraine from Russia.
"If this does not stop, we won't flinch from imposing more sanctions," she told the German parliament.
Hosting the G7 summit in Brussels, the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, echoed Merkel and accused Putin of promoting violence in eastern Ukraine.
"We call on Russia to contribute actively to de-escalation efforts, notably through the withdrawal of its troops from the border, using its leverage on the armed separatists in eastern Ukraine to stop their illegal actions and obtain their disarmament, and preventing the crossing of armed militants and weapons into Ukraine. By not addressing these issues, Russia is contributing to the increase of violence."
Despite the warnings, western leaders are hoping to build on last week's election of Petro Poroshenko as the new Ukrainian president to encourage direct negotiations between Moscow and Kiev. Poroshenko met Obama and other leaders in Warsaw on Wednesday and will be in France, along with Putin, for the D-Day commemoration on Friday.
"We consider that we have some diplomatic and political possibilities," said van Rompuy, "to see if Russia is ready to engage more and stop destabilisation in Ukraine."
Original headline: Obama accuses Russia of 'dark tactics' as pressure grows over Ukraine
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