Russia Direct invited a panel of international experts to discuss the results of the recent G20 Summit in Australia and to analyze Russia’s role in it going forward.

The G20 leaders during the photo session after a meeting. Photo: gettyimages/fotobank

Considering current developments in the international arena – the ISIS threat in the Middle East, the crisis over Ukraine, the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the West – it’s no wonder that discussions about the current geopolitical order become a focal point any time the world’s powers meet. At the Australian G20 Summit, these geopolitical issues were largely discussed on the sidelines, as the formal agenda was focused on solving complex issues that impact global economic growth.

On Nov. 19, Russia Direct hosted a webcast  “Why the G20 still matters for Russia”  which discussed the outcomes of the recent G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia.

The webcast featured Josef Janning, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations; David Shorr, program officer with the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, G20 analyst and a charter member of the Think20 consultation process; Oleg Preksin, B20 Sherpa during Russia’s G20 2013 presidency, professor of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation and Vice President of the Association of Russian Banks (ARB); and Nikolay Murashkin, researcher at the Cambridge Central Asia Forum and the author of the Russia Direct Brief "Why the G20 Still Matters for Russia."

The discussion centered around the outcomes of the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Russia’s role in the G20 and the future of this global forum. The experts also discussed challenges that Turkey, as the next chair of the G20, might face, and what agenda it is going to push forward.

Participants were unanimous in their belief that Russia should remain part of the G20, as it is one of the key players in the world, without which it would be almost impossible to solve modern challenges and threats.

Preksin, who participated in the G20 Summit in Brisbane as B20 Sherpa for Russia, opened the webcast shedding light on the atmosphere behind the scenes. He said that the whole atmosphere of the G20 Summit was very productive and promoted a constructive dialogue.

“We have very good relations with all partners of the B20 and have a possibility to deliver all the messages including those for the G20 leaders… We had bilateral discussions with our partners from the BRICS,” he emphasized.

Shorr described the whole format of the G20 as an important format for discussions; however, he used the allegory of the glass half-full and the glass half-empty. “The glass half-empty being that the Summit is giving us promises, giving us declarations and then we have to watch to see what the policy is. The glass half-full is if we look at this framework (G20) versus not having this framework at all.”

He continued stressing that, “The main job for the G20 is economic growth and economic policy coordination, but when you bring together world leaders from the major economies, key world powers, there should be other issues to discuss.

Shorr highlighted the importance of the discussions on the margins of the G20. “There is a double aspect of the G20: discussing not only the main economic agenda but also other issues that are dealt with because of that opportunity of being together. That is why while the Ukrainian issue is kept off the official agenda, yet in another sense it is dealt with onsite,” he said.

Janning, who joined the webcast from Berlin, pointed out that, “Among the EU members there is a certain reluctance regarding the G20. Of course it is important and it is useful… but if you look at the political level it is a rather diverse and loose construction.”

He continued by describing the German point of view on the G20 process: “I think we would benefit from the fact that if we had more layers of cooperation it would be also easier to deal with our differences. In this sense also Europeans look to a process like G20 process as one of the layers providing leaders with a different agenda.”

“From where I seat, in Berlin, there is a very clear commitment to use whatever possibilities we have to remain in touch and in discussion with Russia and Russian leadership. The recognition here in the EU is that we will have to deal with each other and we need to talk to each other despite the existing differences of opinion,” he argued.

Murashkin, who joined the discussion from Brisbane, Australia, started with describing the media coverage of the G20 Summit in Australia. He stressed that there was both “sensationalist” coverage (e.g. bears on the front page of newspapers) and “serious” coverage about the possible outcomes of the Summit that resulted in fairly balanced coverage overall.

He argued further that, “It is important to look at events that happened on the sidelines of the forum, like signing a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement between China and Australia.” Murashkin also noted, “The G20 is one of the key spaces where the emerging economies meet those who already emerged. It is the place where the engagement, accommodation between the West and the rest of the world happens.”

Thus, the panel of RD experts agreed that the G20 plays an important role in discussions of major items on the economic agenda, and perhaps an even more important role discussing political issues on the sidelines of the forum.

While in Russia the main focus centered on the discussions of the Ukrainian issue and Russia-West relations, the biggest news in America, according to Shorr, was the climate deal between the U.S. and China and their agreements on trade and visa arrangements.

What’s next for the G20?  

Participants of the webcast also discussed the future of the G20 including the agenda that the next chair and host of the G20 Summit – Turkey  is going to develop. All the experts agreed that the agenda of the Australian Summit, which was partly transferred from last year’s St. Petersburg meeting, would also be present during Turkey’s presidency.

It will include sustainable economic growth, global finance transformation, tax issues and infrastructure. However, Preksin underlined that Turkey as the next host of the G20 is also going to push forward the topic of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and their role in the development process.

The discussion also touched on the highly speculative topic of the Vladimir Putin’s early departure from the Brisbane Summit. Oleg Preksin expressed his view that, “Russia participated in all major events of the G20. Putin had the possibility to talk to all the major counterparts of Russia not only in Brisbane but in Beijing just few days before the G20 meetings.” On top of that, Putin had a long flight back home and important events and speeches over the next days. He also expressed his confidence that Russia is in the process of the G20 and will remain in the process.

Nikolay Murashkin commented on Putin’s early exit by arguing that, “The early departure of Putin is much more of a short-term question than [his] actual participation. I do not think it was a sign of general attitude of Russia vis-à-vis the G20.”

He expressed his confidence in the importance of the G20 format for Russia as “the place where engagement and accommodation between the West and the rest [of the world] happens.”

In conclusion, participants discussed the Russian role in the G20. Experts unanimously agreed that Russia, without any doubt, should remain a member.

Janning closed the discussion by arguing that, “Russia is without doubt a part of the G20 and should be and should remain its member. Also, because it is substantial provider of energy resources to the world and Europe in particular, that is the reason why Saudi Arabia is there.”

This is an important point, says Janning: “The G20 is not about just gathering of the largest economies – if that was the case we would now begin to reconsider whether the G7 format is still adequate – it is about bringing together actors of the significance to the world economy, actors who if they acted in coordination and cooperation could make a difference to the world economy and to the world financial system at the time when interdependence is so deep.” In the end, that is the fundamental reason why Russia is going to stay in the G20.

Download Russia Direct Brief: "Why the G20 Still Matters for Russia."