The G-20 war games
The leaders of the 20 biggest economies of the world gathered in Brisbane, Australia on Nov. 15-16, 2014 for the annual meeting of the Group of Twenty (G-20). Although the intention was to discuss the state of the global economy and ways to expand it, the tension among member states, especially reactions toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, overshadowed the discussions and the results of the summit.
Still, after two days, the leaders of the G-20 agreed to commit themselves to boost global economic growth by 2.1 percent over the next five years, which will add more than $2 trillion to global economy and create tens of millions of jobs. According to the Brisbane Action Plan, prepared by the finance ministers of member states in February and accepted by the leaders now, G-20 countries will follow quite an ambitious and strict strategy. It includes increasing investment in global infrastructure, combating tax evasion, and implementing long-term reforms to strengthen global financial regulations. The aim is to return the global economy to the pre-2008 global financial crisis strength.
Besides the global economy, issues ranging from tackling Ebola to reducing the effects of climate change were also on the agenda. The fact that U.S. President Barack Obama had stressed the urgency of these issues before the summit almost predetermined that they would be given priority. In the end, they appeared in the final communiqué with further commitments from the members, but the fate of all these commitments undoubtedly depends on members’ willingness and ability to keep their promises.
In any case, the Brisbane Summit will be remembered not for the commitments, but for the discourteous attitudes of some of the world leaders toward Putin, who left the summit earlier than planned with the excuse of a long flight back home. It started even before the summit, when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused him in person, during the Beijing APEC summit a few days before, of trying to “relive the past glories of the Soviet Union.” At the beginning of the G-20 summit, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also greeted him with the words: “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I’ll only have one thing to say to you: Get out of Ukraine.” During the summit, many, including Britain’s David Cameron and Obama, harshly criticized Putin about Russia's policy in Ukraine and its involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 on July 17.
Both the U.S. and EU member states reiterated their threat to impose further sanctions on Russia if it continues its aggressive policies in Ukraine. Even though the intensity of the conflict subsided with the fragile cease-fire agreement of Sept. 5, the tension is still high, as NATO officials have accused Russia of sending military equipment to the pro-Russian rebels even just last week.
While Putin has been trying to increase Russian presence in international politics ever since he took power, he was finally isolated during the Brisbane Summit, though defiant as ever. Despite the sanctions, depreciation of the ruble and decrease in oil prices, he earlier this month challenged the West with large-scale military maneuvers over the Atlantic, Pacific, Baltic, North and Black Seas. His visit to Brisbane was accompanied by Russian warships and, during the summit, he accused the West of imposing unlawful sanctions.
However, despite the bravado, it is questionable how long the Russian economy can withstand the growing sanctions and decreasing oil prices. Since the U.S. economy has now started to grow again, many remember the final years of the Cold War when the two entered a spending competition on armaments and Russia lost.
Therefore, should Russia wish for a different outcome this time, it will need innovative tactics rather than power plays.