Three major topics are likely to be at the top of the agenda for Russia at the upcoming G20 Summit: China, Ukraine and Syria.
A man rides an electronic bike past a billboard for the upcoming G20 summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, July 29, 2016. Photo: Reuters
This year the world’s leading nations will meet at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China on September 4-5. The theme of the summit will be the building of an innovative, viable, interconnected and inclusive world economy. In addition, the G20 Summit will serve as a platform for discussion for international leaders and a place where worldwide concerns can be addressed.
It is important to note that the G20 Summit will serve as a final testament of the complete failure of the West to isolate Russia politically. Just two years ago, the West’s isolation of Russia seemed like it had passed the point of no return. The 2014 summit in Australia occurred during the tense period of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, where Russia was named as the culprit. The treatment at the summit was so cold, that Vladimir Putin was forced to leave it early.
The summit in Turkey in 2015 was warmer towards Russia, and the international media noted the unexpected conversation between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama on the sidelines of the event.
In turn, the 2016 G20 Summit promises a number of important meetings for the Russian president. One highly anticipated event is the first meeting between Vladimir Putin and Theresa May since the British leader took office. Putin will also have an informal meeting with the other BRICS members during the G20 Summit.
This way, even if the summit in Hangzhou does not lead to any concrete decisions that involve Russia, it would indicate that Russia’s partners still consider it a vital global player. Russia’s opinions are taken into consideration. Beijing even indicated that the most important guest at the summit would be Vladimir Putin.
Here are some significant topics for Russia, which will doubtless be discussed during the summit.
The strengthening of Russia’s relations with China
According to Gui Congyou, director of the Department of European-Central Asian Affairs of China’s Foreign Ministry, “Russia is the world’s main developing economy, and its presence at the G20 will have a great impact on the global economic order, and the resolution of global economic difficulties.” Considering Russia’s economic issues over the last few years, the validity of statements about Russia’s leading role can be doubted. Such statements are more of a testament of improving relations between Russia and China.
The official from China’s foreign ministry also noted that there would be a planned meeting between the heads of state of Russia and China, during which further Russian-Chinese cooperation will be discussed. These meetings will highlight the signing of new intergovernmental agreements, which will mark a new milestone in the relations between the countries.
The anticipated topic of conversation between the two leaders will be the idea of merging the Silk Road and the Eurasian Economic Union. There is also likely to be discussion of a greater union that would include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This is Russia’s concept for a greater area of free trade in the region.
The fate of the Normandy Format and the Minsk Agreement
The other vital event for Russia may be an informal meeting of three members of the Normandy Four – Russia, Germany and France - at the summit in China. Before this meeting there were noticeable increases in violent activity in the Donbas region. Russian officials also announced that there was a possible terrorist act perpetrated in Crimea. Because of the events in Crimea, Vladimir Putin announced that a full meeting of the Normandy Format (including Ukraine) would be “pointless,” therefore such an event is unlikely.
This intensification in the state of the Ukraine conflict has led analysts to re-evaluate the state of affairs between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the possibility that the failed Minsk agreement may be totally re-thought.
According to Alexander Baunov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, “Russia is using what has occurred in Crimea as a reason to re-evaluate the Ukrainian situation with the West, underlining the lack of order and ability to govern shown by Ukraine’s leadership.”
But it is still too early to speak about the dissolution of the Normandy Format. The other members of the format are continuing dialogue, and Putin’s comments only highlight the escalating tension.
The subject of Ukraine will, in one way or another come up at the G20, even if the Normandy Format does not meet formally. Three of the four parties will be present, so it is likely that some discussion will take place.
The Syrian crisis
Another subject that will definitely not go undiscussed is that of Syria, and the worldwide fight against Islamic terrorism. Only a year ago, Syria was on the verge of collapse, but with Russia’s intervention (both military and diplomatic), the situation is much more stable. The government was even able to go on the offensive and free the strategically important city of Palmyra, which had been an important base for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS).
But the Syrian problem is far from over. Anti-Assad forces were able to take advantage of the weak actions of Russia and the United States during the period of peace. This temporary respite was implemented in order to stop “the war of all against all,” but this attempt it in itself had many contradictions. Questions about the fate of Assad, as well as which groups should be considered “terrorists” remained unresolved.
The regrouped Islamic forces already began their counterattack and the media has reported about the rising danger to Aleppo. Government forces are so weakened, that they can barely protect their targets. In such a situation the cooperation and aid of the U.S. and Russia is necessary. The upcoming G20 Summit can be a time for the leaders to discuss this vital issue.
Also read Russia Direct Report: 'Russia's New Strategy in the Middle East'
Russia and Turkey, friends again
As previous events have shown, the Syrian problem can have no resolution without the participation of a vital player—Turkey. But Turkey has always held an uncompromising position both towards Assad and towards Syria. In this position, Turkey has behaved destructively, as when it shot down the Russian airplane over Syria. This action led to a harsh exchange between Putin and Erdogan and was at times, on the brink of a military confrontation.
This political strategy only led to the worsening of Turkey’s relations with nearly all of its neighbors. It was also one of the reasons which led to the failed coup attempt, but the government officials were, after all, able to take control of the situation. This led Turkey to change its course. First it improved relations with Israel, and then Erdogan traveled to St. Petersburg to patch up relations with Russia, with Putin later commenting that things were back to normal between the two nations.
At the G20 summit, Putin and Erdogan will appear not as enemies but as friends and colleagues, and will be able to discuss a number of issues, such as the state of the Middle East as a whole and the course of post-war Syria. Erdogan has already conceded that Assad may play a role in the formation of Syria’s post-revolutionary government during the transition period. One can also expect a further normalization of relations, including talks about a visa-free regime for Turkish citizens, and the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant with the help of Russia.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.