As we saw last week in St. Petersburg, the future success of the G20 is unlikely against the backdrop of a deep political divide between its participants.

Can the restart of U.S.-Russian relations reboot the G20? Photo: AP

Last week's G20 Summit in St. Petersburg elicited greater interest around the world than was originally expected – and it all happened because of the worsening situation in Syria.

Though some analysts suggested that Russia would be disappointed because political issues overshadowed its meticulously prepared economic agenda, Russia’s President Putin did not appear to look upset at all. In fact, before and during the summit, Putin actively commented on a possible U.S. military operation against Assad’s regime in Syria, doing it with great rhetorical emphasis and barely disguised satisfaction.

However, no matter how comfortable the president of the country hosting the summit feels, and no matter to what extent President Putin succeeded in offering rhetorical denunciations of the Obama Administration, observers could not get rid of the impression that the G20 had somehow turned into another “no-starter” summit. What once promised to become a new prospective international dialogue format a few years ago now seems to be one of the many organizations where style takes precedence over substance.

No, things were apparently not as bad as might be feared. At the St. Petersburg Summit, the participants declared their support for many important areas of cooperation designed to overcome global economic problems. However, the circumstances of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg added no confidence in terms of their future implementation.

It may be a coincidence, but the “golden years” of the G20 were the years of the “restart” of Russian-American relations. This, notwithstanding how harshly the G20 was earlier criticized for its half-measures and ineffectiveness from all sides.

The atmosphere of trust and cooperation that occurred between Obama and Medvedev, limited though it was, allowed not only agreements on joint actions within the G20, but also ensured compliance with the agreements reached in 2009–2011. It didn’t hurt matters that there was also a sense of the yawning chasm of an upcoming global financial collapse.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the question of the success of this international institution, which includes representatives of the twenty most developed economies in the world, is decided only in Moscow and Washington, and that it is rigidly connected with the current status of Russian-American relations. However, one should not ignore this very significant factor.

Today, the G20 is trying to claim the role of a new hub in the system of global governance, the institution that sets the rules of the global economic system. As has been demonstrated by Russia's chairmanship of the organization, Moscow takes the G20 seriously, and is ready to use this new mechanism to solve a variety of problems.

However, this episode of the Syrian crisis interfering with the broader economic agenda has clearly demonstrated the following – the success of the G20 is unlikely against the background of a deep political divide between its participants. After all, the implementation of any plans developed today is not guaranteed by anything other than the goodwill of the governments involved.

Although the voices for and against the attack on Syria are divided almost evenly, Russia clearly acted as the principal opponent of Obama Administration's intentions. Even China, which has the same right of veto in the U.N. Security Council as Russia, chose not to make its own arguments, and in fact, only agreed with the statements of Putin.

Should the Russians feel happy with such developments? The answer to this question is not obvious at all.

This effective opposition to the U.S. raises the authority of Russia and its President in the eyes of many people. Demonstrating the superpower strength of Russia, even if only by biting phrases, serves as a psychological doping for the Russian people, which is necessary to overcome the longing for lost grandeur. And Vladimir Putin, who has been noticed romanticizing the Soviet era more than once, willingly performs this function of a therapist for voters who feel nostalgia for the Empire.

However, just like any drug, such imperial anti-Americanism has its price, and it may have adverse health consequences. While, as we saw in St. Petersburg, Russia remains very interested in the success of the G20, it could fall victim to the overuse of this confrontational rhetoric.

Although Moscow prefers conflict scenarios in its relationship with Washington, as we have seen many times in recent months, the need for cooperation on global economic governance may, under favorable circumstances, give rise to changes in the prevailing paradigm.

Some hope comes from the fact that, almost simultaneously with the new wave of harsh criticism of the United States from the Kremlin, a few voices were heard on a hypothetical possibility of a new restart of Russian- American relations. And it is no coincidence that this happened in the days of the G20 Summit.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.