By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor
The US ‘reset’ towards Russia during the first Obama administration had created ‘dividends for European security’, the IISS’s new senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia told an audience in London this week – even if this positive effect was underappreciated. However, relations with Russia in Obama’s second term would be complicated by Vladimir Putin’s recent return to the presidency and Putin’s less apparent warmth towards Washington than predecessor Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia has assumed the helm of the G20 forum of leading economies at a time of concern that the group – so decisive in the wake of 2008 global financial crisis – is in danger of losing its way. What can Moscow do during its year-long presidency to help restore the group’s credibility?
Colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations have canvassed opinion, ‘hoping to assist the government of Russia in defining priorities’. As part of its Council of Councils initiative, which includes the IISS, the CFR has published a collection of policy ‘memos’; one comes from Sanjaya Baru, IISS director for Geo-economics and Strategy, and Samuel Charap, our senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia.
In ‘Russia and the G20′, Baru and Charap point out that Russia is unique in being both a member of the G8 leading industrialised nations and one of the BRICS (the term for the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets, which also refers to Brazil, India, China and South Africa). Although Moscow has a mixed record in leveraging its position between the West and ‘the rest’, it does have the potential to act as a bridge between advanced and developing economies, they believe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has set out five central issues for the G20 summit in St Petersburg this September, from reforming the international currency system to advancing discussions on energy security and climate change. Meanwhile, emerging nations have been calling for a greater role in international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and the latest round of WTO trade negotiations has long been stalled.
The IISS authors focus on the ways in which the G20 could respond to its critics by taking forward the agenda agreed at its September 2009 summit in Pittsburgh to speed up the restructuring of the IMF and World Bank shareholdings, reviving the Doha Round of WTO talks and discouraging countries from ‘pursuing beggar-my-neighbor trade and currency policies’.
While they recognise the problems hampering the G20′s effectiveness – from national leaders’ current domestic preoccupations to overlap with G7, G8 and BRICS meetings – Baru and Charap suggest that the G20 has enormous influence over the IMF and the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), as it includes almost all the major shareholders. ‘Even the WTO can be guided by the G20′.
The same is not necessarily true, they argue, of other global negotiations, especially those relating to climate change, where many non-G20 countries have such major stakes.
With all the high-level diplomatic visits to Moscow and accompanying news headlines, a casual observer might easily conclude that Russia holds the key to resolving the Syrian crisis, writes Samuel Charap, IISS senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia, in a New York Times op-ed. ‘But as the latest round of failed talks this weekend - this time between Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria – conclusively demonstrate, Russia will not be part of the solution on Syria.’
Charap says that some members of the international community continue to hope that Moscow can bring its influence on President Bashar al-Assad to bear on some sort of political transition. However, he points that the Kremlin has not only ‘fastidiously’ avoided joining the call for Assad to step down, but has also issued three UN Security Council vetoes during votes on Syria, and ‘bent over backward to water down the Geneva Communiqué calling for a peaceful transition of authority’.
Russia is not blind to the tragedy of the situation, but its approach to international intervention is very different from that of much of the rest of the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union. ‘Moscow does not believe the UN Security Council should be in the business of endorsing the removal of a sitting government,’ explains Charap. Indeed, it views many past US-led interventions as threatening to the stability of the international system and is not convinced that Washington’s motives in Syria are driven purely by humanitarian concerns. It even worries that giving its imprimatur to international action on Syria could potentially threaten ‘regime stability’ in Russia itself by creating a dangerous precedent that could eventually be used against it.