Russia in the Aftermath of the G20 Summit

by Emily Young

The G-20 summit held in Brisbane, Australia several weeks ago brought together leaders of industrialized and developing countries to discuss matters of increasing global concern. Unsurprisingly, Russia’s infiltration of Ukraine was high on that list, resulting in Vladimir Putin’s icy reception. Leaders were not shy to criticize his cold war-reminiscent actions overs the last several months, and utilized the opportunity of the summit to reprimand him. While Mr. Putin left saying “[he was] very happy with the result and with the atmosphere” of the summit, there was an undeniable tension surrounding recent decisions he has made concerning Ukraine.

The Summit revealed that North America and Europe are not the only ones frustrated and appalled by Russia’s engagements this year, as Japan and Australia were among the critics voicing their concern. Tensions surrounding the shooting of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 resulted in the two countries plus the United States signing a joint statement “condemn[ing] Russia’s position.” Additionally, President Obama met with European leaders to discuss yet another coordinated response to Russia. This response would most likely be in the form of continued and harsher sanctions, which began in March after Crimea’s annexation.

On Monday, following the weekend-long event, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke frankly about her four-hour discussion with Mr. Putin during the weekend. From her speech at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, it would appear her discussion with the Russian leader was less than conciliatory, and that further actions to prevent the crisis from escalating beyond Ukrainian borders may be necessary. Russia’s involvements not just in Ukraine, but in Syria as well, have led the German Chancellor to lose trust in Mr. Putin, and ultimately to her adopting a less accommodating position towards his country.

Since the G-20 Summit, Ms. Merkel has been advocating for continued and strengthened sanctions against Russia, despite the potential cost at home. However, given that the measures taken thus far have had little influence in pro-separatist areas, this may not be enough. NATO reports the current four month ceasefire has been broken repeatedly, resulting in more than 4,000 deaths in Eastern Ukraine. To address the root cause of these problems, a new, stronger strategy needs to be developed by all members of the G-20, but especially the European Union, as this conflict is taking place in their backyard. The economic sanctions and travel bans currently in place, while greatly affecting Russian families, have appeared too weak to tackle the fundamental problems faced in Eastern Europe. These soft-power policies combined with the verbal reprimands of the G-20 clearly are not strong enough to enforce change. Unless countries start putting some weight behind their words, I imagine that Putin will walk away from all his meetings like did the summit – satisfied.