This year the seventieth anniversary of D-Day coincided with the G7 summit in Brussels. For the first time since 1997, world leaders met as the G7 rather than as the G8 following the exclusion of Russia from the group as a result of its invasion of Crimea. However, as Paris-based journalist Elena Servettaz notes, Vladimir Putin, who was present at the D-Day celebrations, still tried to steal the show to promote his policies.

 

 

History, it seems, has a healthy appreciation for irony. The seventieth anniversary of D-Day, which recognizes the landing of the Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 to liberate Europe from the Nazis, coincided with the G7 summit. However, these celebrations were soured by concerns about the actions of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who triumphantly annexed Crimea several months ago

Despite the sunny weather of the European summer, the political climate surrounding the G7 summit was stormy. For the first time in 17 years, leaders of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan met as the G7 rather than as the G8 following the exclusion of Russia from the group as a result of its invasion of Crimea.

The summit welcomed the election of Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine and further denounced Russia’s interference in the affairs of a sovereign state, calling for the disarmament of illegal armed groups in the southeastern part of Ukraine. In its final declaration, the summit stated that it “condemn[ed] the Russian Federation, which continues to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of Crimea is illegal.” They further reaffirmed the policy of targeted sanctions against Russian officials and companies, and some members declared their readiness to strengthen these sanctions and impose additional measures against Russia, should the situation require it.

In Russia, the pro-Kremlin media sneered at U.S. president Barack Obama’s meeting with Poroshenko, calling it a “meeting of the two chocolate presidents.” However, Obama’s formal recognition of Poroshenko, symbolized with a handshake, lent real legitimacy and political weight to Poroshenko’s presidency. Poroshenko’s own presence did not go unnoticed: during the celebratory ceremonies on the beaches of Normandy, he projected an image of strength and confidence that hardly hinted at the threats and unrest facing Ukraine at this time.

Putin is still determined to spin his own actions as legitimate while delegitimizing the Ukrainian presidency and its Western supporters.

However, Putin is still determined to spin his own actions as legitimate while delegitimizing the Ukrainian presidency and its Western supporters. Just before his visit to France, Putin gave an exclusive interview to seasoned French journalists Gilles Bulot and Jean-Pierre Elkabbach. While Elkabbach was proud to have conducted an unrestricted interview with Putin, a man whom he described as having “a cold charisma,” the media-savvy president was able to dodge tricky questions and instead use the interview as a platform to reiterate the Kremlin’s views, describing the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine as a “punitive operation,” categorizing Russia as a “normal democratic state,” and portraying the United States as an aggressor in the conflict. Furthermore, the Kremlin was very particular in its transcriptions and translations of the interview, rephrasing the question, “Is it possible to remain in opposition to you without any risk?” as, “Is it possible to be in opposition in Russia and not risk one’s relationships and one’s reputation and to avoid punishment by Russian justice?” Perhaps subtlety is lost in translation.

Though it was unclear during the celebrations in Normandy whether Putin would meet with Poroshenko, the meeting between the two presidents was finally held in the presence of French president François Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel. On June 6, news agencies reported that a meeting between Obama and Putin had been held in Benouville, but Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy advisor on national security, stated later that the conversation had only lasted about 10 minutes and had been informal in nature. During the official D-Day ceremony, interaction between the U.S. and Russian presidents was so limited that two different cameras and editing were needed to generate an image of the two presidents together.

It is still too early to tell whether the conclusion of the G7 summit will mark the beginning of the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. But one thing is certain: this time, as 70 years ago, world leaders have done everything possible to curb the appetite of one man and give Europe a chance for an optimistic future once again.

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