The G20 Summit in Turkey, intensification of Russian airstrikes in Syria and a glimmer of hope for an improvement in relations between Russia and the West all made headlines.
The 2015 G-20 Leaders Summit was held near the Turkish city of Antalya on Nov. 15-16, 2015. Photo: AP
Last week was devoted to the G20 Summit in Turkey, mourning for the victims of the terror attacks in France and Egypt, and the search for a joint approach to fighting international terrorism. Despite the clear commonality of the global terrorism problem and the prospects for a joint solution, each of the great powers continues to play its own game.
Results from the G20 Summit in Turkey
On Nov. 15-16 the Turkish city of Antalya turned into the center of world politics as it played host to the G20 Summit. Although the G20 was initially an economic platform, with politics supposedly the preserve of the G8, the latter’s reversion to the G7 format means that it lacks some of its former authority to take legitimate political decisions on a global scale. So the burden has now passed to the G20.
In the wake of the recent attacks in Cairo, Beirut and Paris and the explosion on board the Russian airliner, the main topic of the forum in Antalya was international terrorism. All eyes were on Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is leading the fight.
U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal, which can hardly be accused of being a Kremlin sympathizer, noted that the Russian leader was “front and central throughout the whole summit in Turkey.” Taking advantage of his privileged position, Putin reiterated his previous call in September at the UN General Assembly for the world to join forces in the fight against the absolute evil that is terrorism.
“The terror attacks in Paris make it absolutely imperative for everyone to put aside all excuses, pretexts and preconditions and focus on creating a truly universal anti-terror front,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, explaining the Kremlin’s position. But Moscow’s call was not heeded, as Brussels is not prepared either to trust Moscow or to give up dividing terrorists into “good ones” and “bad ones.”
Russia needs its own Operation Wrath of God
On Nov. 20, FSB head Alexander Bortnikov officially stated that the Russian Airbus A321 had been brought down by an on board bomb. Vladimir Putin immediately vowed that all those implicated would be found and destroyed.
The Russian Defense Ministry has been instructed to intensify its operation in Syria. The number of anti-terror sorties has doubled, and terrorist positions near Raqqa have been hit with cruise missiles. It is also possible that the Russian Air Force will strike the militant group known as Wilayat Sinai (which has claimed responsibility for the bombing of the plane), following public consultations with the Egyptian authorities and private consultations with Israel.
But attacking the foot soldiers is clearly not enough. The ringleaders, some of whom are quite possibly in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, must also be targeted. And not only for the sake of revenge, but to minimize the potential for new terror attacks and demonstrate Moscow’s ability to hunt down enemies in any corner of the world.
The Kremlin has announced a reward of $50 million for information about the organizers, but it is more than likely that certain tasks have been assigned to the intelligence agencies — perhaps something akin to Operation Wrath of God, Israel’s covert mission to eliminate the perpetrators of the hostage-taking of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
A tentative thaw
One of France’s most popular politicians, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, recently spoke of the need to lift the anti-Russian sanctions as soon as possible. Europe is discussing the matter right now, and it is most likely that a moderate variant will prevail, under which the sanctions are prolonged for six months. The parameters of the debate about normalizing relations with Russia are gradually shifting towards how and under what conditions dialogue can be resumed. The fact that Europe must act is not doubted.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker took a step in this direction in a letter to Vladimir Putin, proposing coordinated action in the form of consultations between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union subject to further implementation of the Minsk agreements. Russia is not against cooperation per se, but opposes coupling the two issues.
It would be wrong to link the as yet weak trend towards normalization of Russia-Europe relations with the recent coming together of minds in the fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). The sides showed willingness to cooperate on Iran in the summer of 2015, and in September they signed an agreement on the proposed Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline. Nevertheless, a sharp reversal of Western policy on Russia should not be expected, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier is still committed to extending the sanctions.
Russia is ready to restructure Ukrainian debt, but Ukraine is not
At the final conference of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, Vladimir Putin confirmed that a proposal had been made to Ukraine to restructure the country’s debt, which falls due in full this year. The proposal seeks the gradual repayment of the debt in $1 billion tranches over the next three years. The offer was hard to refuse, but Ukraine did just that. The main reason was Kiev’s fear that it would encourage other creditors to better defend their interests next time around.
Ukraine’s attitude clearly demonstrates that it intends to raise the possibility of a new debt write-off, whereupon creditors would not see any of their money at all. Failure to repay Russia would cut off further financing from the IMF, although urgent mechanisms are currently being developed to preserve Kiev’s lending program in the event of default, bypassing IMF rules.
That said, Ukraine still has the ability to repay its debt to Russia. Its foreign exchange reserves amount to $12.8 billion and are set to swell to $18 billion by the end of the year on the back of new credit. Since the beginning of the year, the country has received loans worth a total of $9.7 billion, and another $4 billion is expected to arrive by the end of the year.
Ukraine will soon face the new challenge of a Russian embargo. Russian Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukaev announced such measures on Nov. 18. It comes as no surprise. The new rules relate to Ukraine’s entry into a free trade zone with the EU and the requirements for Russia to take standard precautions to protect its own market.
According to Kiev, the move will lead to losses of $600 million next year. In the words of EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, Ukraine has been given plenty of money and enough time to prepare for such a turn of events.