SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden told allies “we have to stay together” against Russia, as world leaders met on Sunday at a G7 summit in the Bavarian Alps that will be dominated by war in Ukraine and its painful impact on food and energy supplies across the globe.
At the start of the meeting, four members of the Group of Seven rich nations moved to ban imports of Russian gold as part of efforts to tighten the sanctions squeeze on Moscow and cut off its means of financing the invasion of Ukraine.
However, it was not immediately clear whether there was consensus on the move, with European Council President Charles Michel saying the issue would need to be handled carefully or risk backfiring.
Western countries rallied around Kyiv when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but more than four months into the war, that unity is being tested as soaring inflation and energy shortages rebound on their own citizens.
Chided by Ukraine for not going far enough to punish Russia, G7 leaders were also having “really constructive” talks on a possible price cap on Russian oil imports, a German government source said earlier.
At the start of a bilateral meeting, Biden thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for showing leadership on Ukraine and said Russian President Vladimir Putin had failed to break their unity. Scholz has faced criticism at home and abroad of his handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We can get through all of this and come out stronger,” Biden said.
“Because Putin has been counting on it from the beginning that somehow the NATO and the G7 would splinter. But we haven’t and we’re not going to.”
Britain said the ban on Russian gold imports was aimed at wealthy Russians who have been buying safe-haven bullion to reduce the financial impact of Western sanctions. Russian gold exports were worth 12.6 billion pounds ($15.45 billion) last year.
“The measures we have announced today will directly hit Russian oligarchs and strike at the heart of Putin’s war machine,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“We need to starve the Putin regime of its funding. The UK and our allies are doing just that.”
Britain, the United States, Canada and Japan will ban Russian gold imports. France also supported the move.
On the oil price cap and on the gold import ban, Michel said the issue would need to be discussed further.
“I’m careful and cautious, we are ready to go into the details,” he said. “We are ready to take a decision together with our partners, but we want to make sure that what we decide will have a negative effect (on Russia) and not a negative effect for ourselves.”
As missiles struck the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Sunday, hitting an apartment block and a kindergarten, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the G7 must respond with more weapons and tougher sanctions on Russia.
Biden called the strikes acts of “barbarism”.
MESSAGE OF UNITY
The summit takes place against an even darker backdrop than last year, when the leaders of the G7 countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – met for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As delegates arrived at Schloss Elmau, a castle at the foot of the Wetterstein mountains, they were greeted with flowers as Bavarian mountain riflemen stood to attention in the sunshine.
Leaders are expected to discuss options for tackling rising energy prices and replacing Russian oil and gas imports. They also want to avoid sanctions that could stoke inflation and exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis affecting their own populations.
Soaring global energy and food prices are hitting economic growth in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, with the United Nations warning of an “unprecedented global hunger crisis”.
Climate change, an increasingly assertive China and the rise of authoritarianism are also set to be on the agenda.
The summit provides an opportunity for Scholz to demonstrate more assertive leadership on the Ukraine crisis.
Scholz vowed a revolution in German foreign and defence policy after Russia’s invasion in February, promising to bolster the military and send weapons to Ukraine. But critics have since accused him of dragging his feet and sending mixed messages.
This year Scholz has invited Senegal, Argentina, Indonesia, India and South Africa as partner nations at the summit.
Many countries of the global south are concerned about the collateral damage from western sanctions.
An EU official said G7 countries would impress upon the partner countries that food price spikes hitting them were the result of Russia’s actions and that there were no sanctions targeting food. It was also a mistake to think of the Ukraine war as a local matter.
“It’s more than this. It’s questioning the order, the post Second World War order,” the official said.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Andrea Shalal, Philip Blenkinsop, John Irish, and William Schomberg; Editing by Raissa KasolowskyWriting by Sarah Marsh and Matthias Williams Editing by Peter Graff and David Goodman)