The unprecedented terrorist attacks in Paris came just days before an important G20 Summit in Turkey, where Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama had the opportunity to meet informally to discuss Syria and Ukraine.
US President Barack Obama (L) talks to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) during a break of the G20 summit working session in Antalya, Turkey, 15 November 2015. Photo: EPA
Heading into the weekend, the leaders and diplomats of the twenty countries with the biggest economies were busy preparing for the G20 Summit, which is taking place in Antalya, Turkey from Nov. 15-16. There are many issues on this year’s agenda – from problems in the world economy and finance to refugee issues, the fight against terrorism and resolving the Syrian crisis.
However, in light of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks that left over 100 people dead and more than 300 injured, the issue of fighting terrorism and, in particular, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has dominated the agenda of the G20 Summit.
The Paris terror attacks, the G20 and Syrian peace talks
The terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 affected to a great extent the agenda of both Syrian peace talks in Vienna on Nov. 14 and the G20 Summit in Turkey.
In Vienna, 17 nations participated in talks on the political settlement in Syria. They ultimately overcame their differences and adopted a timeline for political transition in Syria, which will give an opportunity for opposition groups and the government to draft a constitution and conduct elections by 2017.
Before the G20 Summit kicked off in Turkey, there was much speculation about the appearance of both U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who did not schedule a meeting on the sidelines of the venue.
After the Paris attacks, however, it has become more obvious that Russia and the U.S. should make a move towards reconciliation, at least on the question of fighting terrorism. To the surprise of many, Putin and Obama ultimately had an unplanned conversation on the sidelines of the G20 Summit for about 20 minutes, where they discussed the Syrian crisis and Ukraine.
— Svetlana Lukash (@LanaLukash) November 15, 2015
The White House has already characterized the discussion two leaders had as “constructive.” Putin and Obama agreed on the necessity for a ceasefire in Syria and that talks between the conflicting parties should be brokered by the UN.
This meeting could become a pivotal moment in the Syrian crisis as well as in Russia-West relations in general. However, given the fact that a U.K. newspaper, the Times, wrote about an alleged plan to designate Russia as the main threat in the UK’s new security strategy, which will be presented at the end of the month, there is still a long way to go before world leaders can think about a true turning point in Russia-West relations.
Russia reaffirms its friendship with Kuwait
On Nov. 10, the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, made his first trip to Russia as the head of state, to discuss with President Vladimir Putin regional security issues and possible areas of cooperation. The meeting was held at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The talks were attended by the leaders and foreign ministers of both countries.
Sabah Al-Sabah is a very important policymaker in the region. Previously, he served for several decades as his country’s foreign minister, and gained considerable diplomatic experience and credibility. Now his role is particularly important in the organization of support for Syrian refugees.
It should be noted, however, that the leadership of Kuwait still has a positive view of Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, noting that it is providing a stabilizing function there. Practically on all issues discussed at the talks, the closeness of the two countries was made apparent, and this was revealed during the final press conference, at which Sergey Lavrov repeatedly referred to his Kuwaiti counterpart as a friend.
Following the meeting, a series of documents were signed, including a memorandum on cooperation in the oil and gas sector. Common ground could also be discerned on the issue of pricing policy and the fight against falling prices for hydrocarbons. Falling oil prices have deprived Kuwait’s state budget of 60 percent of its revenues, and next year, this country, for the first time in many years, will have to deal with a budget deficit.
During the talks, it was agreed that an additional $1 billion would be invested from the Kuwaiti Investment Agency into projects of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Discussed during the negotiations was also the possibility of supplying Russian weapons to Kuwait, which has demonstrated interest in anti-aircraft missiles, fighter planes, and combat helicopters.
A settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
On Nov. 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Yerevan. According to some experts, the goal of this visit was to discuss an initiative proposed by Moscow, aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
As part of the Russian proposal, the Armenians would return to the control of Baku most of the districts surrounding Karabakh captured during the war. For themselves, they would leave only Lachin District, and perhaps also Kelbajar District as a corridor that would connect Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
In exchange, Baku would have to agree to maintain the demilitarized status of the territories thus received, to renounce the use of force in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, become a member of the Eurasian Union and agree to a long-term entry into the region of CSTO peacekeeping forces. This would in fact mean a de facto recognition by Azerbaijan of an independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
According to Moscow’s calculations, the implementation of this plan would cease the regular shelling of Armenian positions by the Azerbaijani Army, prevent the escalation of this conflict, and at the same time, maintain within Russia’s sphere of influence both Baku and Yerevan.
However, in Armenia they do not understand why they should agree to this new Russian proposal. Yerevan does not worry about the possibility of an escalation of this conflict into a new war. They are well aware that the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, will not be allowed to start a full-scale war by Europe (fearful of destruction of the oil and gas infrastructure in Azerbaijan), or by Russia (which has given formal guarantees of security to Armenia and made informal commitments to maintain the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh), or even Turkey (which does not wish to enter into a conflict with Russia). And so, if no war is possible, then why give up territory currently held?
The evacuation of Russians from Egypt
On Nov. 8, Vladimir Putin signed a decree, “On certain measures to ensure the national security of the Russian Federation and the protection of Russian citizens from criminal and other illegal acts.” According to this document, Russian airlines are temporarily prohibited from carrying passengers from the territory of the Russian Federation to Egypt, and travel companies from selling tickets to Russian citizens, in which the destination is Egypt. Those Russians currently in Egypt are being evacuated under the highest possible security measures (for example, luggage is being sent separately from the passengers).
These precautionary measures are most likely due to the emerging evidence that the Airbus A-321 airliner crash could very well have been due to a terrorist attack. Given the extremely poor security at Egyptian airports (according to one version, a bomb was smuggled past customs agents, and placed into the luggage compartment of the aircraft), Moscow has no assurances that this will not happen again. And the targets could become not only the aircraft, but also, for example, hotels with Russian tourists.
The Egyptian authorities were sympathetic to the Russian evacuation of their citizens. Yes, the exit of the Russians (and the British, too, since London decided to evacuate its citizens even before Moscow) will be a serious blow to the Egyptian economy. One in five tourists in Egypt was from Russia, one in ten from the UK, and the tourism sector accounts for almost 10 percent of the country’s economy.
However, everything now depends on the Egyptian authorities – as soon as they put their tourism industry in order, and improve their security measures (for example, abolishing the so-called “VIP Corridor” – the practice of allowing passengers to pass through customs and security without any checks for a 10-Euro fee – which remained in operation even after the crash), Moscow may reconsider its decision and return Russian tourists to the beaches of Egypt.