ST PETERSBURG Russia (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin, shut out of a G7 summit over Russia’s role in Ukraine, parried the snub on Thursday with a terse message for world leaders who lunched without him in Brussels on Thursday: “Bon appetit”.
Putin should have been hosting the heads of leading industrialized nations at a summit of the G8 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi this week.
But the G7 nations scotched those plans in protest against Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, and the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan held their summit without him.
Asked how he felt about this, Putin barely broke stride to spit out an answer to Kremlin reporters who had been advised to await him at the bottom of a sweeping staircase at the Russian Geographical Society after a meeting on Arctic policy.
“I would like to wish them bon appetit,” he said, using the Russian equivalent of the phrase, and then walked away swiftly.
Russia joined the G7 in 1997, making it the G8 and marking a milestone in Moscow’s rapprochement with the West after the collapse of communism and breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But the crisis in Ukraine has driven Russia’s relations with the United States and European Union to a post-Cold War low. Western nations have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on officials, lawmakers and companies close to Putin.
At the G7 summit, which was ending on Thursday, the leaders threatened to impose harder-hitting sanctions on Russia if it did not help restore stability to eastern Ukraine, where Western nations accuse Moscow of supporting separatists.
Putin’s isolation from the West is only partial. From St Petersburg he was flying to France, where he was to have supper with President Francois Hollande later on Thursday before taking part in D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations on Friday.
Putin was also expected to hold separate meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron while in France, but no meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was scheduled.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Heinrich