Russia’s increasing role as a guarantor of global security, combined with the nation’s pivot to Asia, has apparently earned it a leading role at this year’s G20 Summit in China.
Сlay figures, from bottom right, showing U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin amongst other state leaders expected to attend the G20 summit are displayed at a shop in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Photo: AP
At the G20 Summit slated for Sept. 4-5 in Hangzhou, China, the Russian Federation enjoys a particularly strong place among the invitees, which include not only the official G20 members, but also several important regional players (Egypt and Singapore). In fact, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodung stated that Russia was the main guest at the meeting.
The primary theme of this year's G20 Summit is the economy, and China has referred to itself and Russia as constituting the "main engines of the global economy." Nevertheless, the Chinese foreign ministry has also stated that it hopes to discuss security issues with Russia, asserting that both countries "play a fundamental role in ensuring the security of the world."
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China's preferential treatment toward Russia at the expense of other major G20 economic powers will no doubt boost Russia's credentials and a sense of closer Sino-Russian partnership. Beyond the display of goodwill, however, the G20 Summit reveals Russia's difficult position in its aspirations for both closer ties to China and overall great power status.
Russia's red carpet treatment ahead of the gathering, combined with Russia's multiple agendas at the meeting, underscores a critical tension in Russian foreign policy. On the one hand, Russia's developing ties with China are critical for the country's ambitions of restoring its great power status. Yet the G20 guest of honor must also juggle a number of global commitments and priorities in order to be more than simply a Eurasian power.
While Russia had announced a "pivot to the East" in response to its increasing isolation from Europe, Russia still maintains strong interests in Europe. The G20 Summit provides Russia with an excellent opportunity to engage diplomatically with European leaders on economic and security affairs.
The Russian Foreign Ministry recently announced a meeting of the "Normandy Quartet" - consisting of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine - at the G20 Summit. The announcement comes at a time of increasing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, particularly in light of Putin's recent visit to Crimea and recent war games held in the region.
Relations with the United Kingdom, long-soured by issues ranging from the annexation of Crimea to accusations of espionage, have recently enjoyed at least a nominal uptick in light of Theresa May's ascendancy to the UK's premiership.
Boris Johnson, who assumed the position of UK foreign minister under the May government, has also called for "normalization" in Russia-UK ties, to which Russia has responded that it hopes for "improved understanding" between itself and the post-Brexit UK. The two countries' leaders have agreed to meet at Hangzhou.
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In addition to Russia's ties to various European countries, Latin America will also feature in Russia's G20 agenda. While Russia's interests in Latin America have strong security foundations, the G20 comprises three major Latin American economies, namely Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri, has plans to meet with Putin. The announcement of an Argentina-Russia meeting at the summit follow a declaration by a top Argentine economic official that the Argentine economy has "normalized" under Buenos Aires' new administration. Argentina will chair the G20 in 2018.
Brazil, Russia's largest trading partner in Latin America, remains mired in a political crisis as President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment. The Russian Foreign Ministry has called for adherence to the principles of the Brazilian constitution in light of the impeachment process. An analysis by Latin America expert Eugene Bai warns that the impeachment process in Brazil could undermine Brazil-Russia trade relations.
Russia, therefore, while enjoying a prime position in Hangzhou this year, also runs the risk of distraction, or at the very least not having as much time and energy to devote to China as it may like.
The extent to which the G20 meeting will bolster China-Russia relations will depend in part on how much time and energy Russia allots to China versus its other priorities. China and Russia have several bilateral as well as multilateral mechanisms through which they can and do cooperate on economic and security affairs.
For this year's G20 gathering to have a veritable impact on China-Russia relations now and beyond, Russia will need to keep the momentum of its VIP status going while not neglecting its other commitments and priorities beyond Asia.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.