The thrust of his diplomatic efforts still focused on Ukraine, President Barack Obama met Tuesday with a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he continued his efforts to isolate Moscow over its incursion into Crimea.
In a last minute addition to his schedule, Obama sat down with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a long room at the U.S. embassy, with the two countries' flags set up behind them. U.S. officials offered no details about the meeting's agenda, but Nazarbayev is part of a Russia-centered economic bloc focused on Eurasia.
Kazakhstan is the second largest country by territory and economy to emerge from the former Soviet Union. Nazarbayev has maneuvered between Russia and the West during more than two decades in power. Kazakhstan's energy resources and strong economy give it some independence from Moscow.
Obama was also diving back in nuclear security summitry and further sideline overtures on Tuesday as his four-country, weeklong trip entered its second day.
Still, as the United States redoubled efforts to pressure Russia out of its aggressive pose, the Russian annexation of Crimea began to take root and Moscow shrugged off Obama's drive to leave Putin in the cold.
The U.S. and some of its closest allies cut Russia out indefinitely from a major coalition of leading industrial nations and canceled a summer summit Russia was to host in its Olympic village of Sochi. Obama also sought to win backing from other foreign leaders in hopes of ostracizing or even shaming Putin into reversing his acquisition of Crimea and backing away from any designs he might have on other Eastern Europe territory.
In a strongly worded joint statement, the United States, France, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan denounced a referendum in Crimea to secede from Ukraine and Russia's ensuing annexation. In so doing, the seven leaders also effectively excluded Russia from what had been a two-decade-old coalition known as the Group of Eight.
"This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations,'' the declaration said.
Still, Monday's international gestures in Amsterdam and in The Hague got only a dismissive reaction from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"The G-8 is an informal club,'' he said. "It has no membership tickets, and it can't purge anyone by definition.''
And in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine ordered its troops to pull back from the disputed territory, a clear signal that