Leaders meeting at a nuclear security summit in The Hague aim to discuss ways to combat nuclear terrorism. But Russia's recent annexation of Crimea means nuclear safety won't be at the top of the agenda.
The date was set aside some time ago. Heads of state from 53 countries had agreed to meet in The Hague to discuss nuclear security issues, such as how to prevent terrorists building a so-called "dirty bomb." But Russia's takeover of Crimea has changed that. Now the focus has shifted, and the G7 states have decided to hold their own crisis talks on the sidelines of the summit.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent his country at the nuclear security summit, but Russia won't be included when the Group of Seven industrialized countries - the United States, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, France and Italy - hold their own summit. The last time Russia wasn't at the table was at the 1997 G7 summit in Denver. In 1998 Russia became the eighth member of the elite group, which from then on was called the G8.
Troops on the border
It was US President Barack Obama who called for a G7 meeting at the summit. At the weekend both the US and NATO expressed concern over the concentration of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.
Obama's Security Advisor Susan Rice said US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had voiced these concerns in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart. "It's not clear what that signals," she said. "The Russians have stated that they are intending military exercises. Obviously, given their past practice and the gap between what they have said and what they have done, we are watching it with skepticism."
Moscow, however, has rejected reports about the reinforcement of Russian troops. Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying Russia was complying with international troop limits near its borders with Ukraine.
More support from NATO
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has argued for NATO to play a stronger role in the dispute over Crimea. "It's important for the allies on the border that NATO now establishes a strong presence," the minister told news magazine "Der Spiegel."
Von der Leyen is a member of the majority Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and her comments have attracted criticism from within the ranks of the CDU's coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD). SPD foreign policy expert Nils Annen accused von der Leyen of contributing to the escalation.
Fears of another takeover
In Kyiv there are growing fears about the threat of an invasion by Russian soldiers in the east of the country. On Sunday (23.03.2014) in the city of Donetsk, pro-Russia protesters called for the secession of the region from Ukraine. Thousands of people took to the streets to demand a referendum on joining Russia.
Now other Eastern European countries fear Russia's incursion into Crimea could be repeated in their territory under the pretext of protecting other Russian-speaking minorities. "In the Baltic states there is a mixture of concern and alertness," said Kai-Olaf Lang, head of the EU Integration Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. In Moldova there are also fears about an intervention of Russian troops.
At the weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone conversation not to attempt to destabilize Moldova, her spokesman said. Merkel also reaffirmed that the annexation of Crimea "undoubtedly" violates international law and will not be recognized, and that Moscow now bears the responsibility for ensuring its actions in Crimea don't lead to bloodshed.
Meanwhile Ukraine says it has ordered the complete withdrawal of armed forces from the peninsula. Following a National Security Council meeting in Kyiv on Monday, Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov announced the troops would be moved to the mainland.