US, Japan and Australia vow to oppose Russian action in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks up at the start of the plenary session at the G20 summit in Brisbane November 15, 2014.

BRISBANE, Australia - The leaders of the United States, Japan and Australia lined up together against Russia on Sunday, vowing to oppose Russian efforts to destabilise eastern Ukraine during a rare trilateral meeting held at the G20 summit in Brisbane.

President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said they would oppose "Russia's purported annexation of Crimea and its actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine," and were committed to "bringing to justice those responsible for the downing of Flight MH17."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under intense pressure from other G20 leaders over his government's backing for pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, where a conflict has killed more than 4,000 people this year.

On Saturday, Western leaders warned Putin that he risked more sanctions if he failed to end his country's backing for the separatists. Russia has denied any involvement.

In addition to Ukraine and the Ebola crisis, the three leaders discussed "eliminating the North Korean nuclear and missile threat" and "addressing human rights in North Korea including the abductions issue," they said in a joint statement.

CHINA WARY Obama's meeting with Abe and Abbott was arranged at Washington's behest, a senior administration official said on Saturday evening under condition of anonymity.

Obama, in Asia for the second time this year, wants to reassure allies about Washington's strategic shift toward the region. China views greater military cooperation between the three parties warily. "The three leaders reaffirmed the global reach of their cooperation and the value of comprehensive US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region," the leaders said.

They also discussed the need for the "peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law," an oblique reference to disputes between China and its neighbours over islands in the South China Sea.

In a speech on Saturday, Obama alluded to Beijing's maritime disputes with its neighbours and growing concern about its military build-up, insisting that the United States would not back down from its commitment to the region.

Australia is leaning towards buying as many as 12 stealth submarines from Japan, a major portion of Australia's overall A$40 billion (US$35 billion) submarine programme. Washington supports the deal.