BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - A meeting of leaders of the world’s most powerful economies, marked by tensions and division over Russia’s aggressions in Ukraine and climate change, ended with an agreement on hundreds of steps to drive more jobs and economic growth over the next five years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it’s not “sexy” stuff but vital for the health of the global economy.
But this G20 gathering will be remembered more for Harper’s rebuff of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the pressure brought by other like British Prime Minister David Cameron and European Union leaders on Putin to withdraw from Ukraine under threat of more sanctions.
Harper reluctantly shook hands with Putin Saturday and gave him a blunt message: ‘Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine,’” according to his spokesman Jason MacDonald.
The Russian delegation said Putin replied “Impossible. Since we are not there.”
At a news conference, Harper made no apologies for dropping the diplomatic niceties, and said he confronted Putin because it is “necessary” and “important” for all leaders to keep up the pressure on Putin and his regime.
“We cannot have a major power in this day and age seize the sovereign territory of another country and simply move on as if nothing’s happened. My view is that that kind of action only whets the appetite which is why the world community has to respond strongly and I think it has.”
Harper said the reaction of the Russian government, “which denies its presence in Ukraine even when they have annexed a portion of its territory,” is telling.
“Claiming that, you know, they haven’t done any such thing when we all know they have, of course, tells us that they really are on the defensive. If you were actually proud of what you’d done you would go out and say so.”
In French, Harper went further: “Obviously they are ashamed. If you’re proud of your actions, you would boast of your actions, and that’s not what the government of Russia did here.”
Harper said he signalled to Putin that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, in Canada’s view, “is the only important thing for our relationship.”
Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor and research chair in international security and governance, said it would be “irresponsible” for Harper and others not to confront Putin with the obvious.
“But while I think it makes perfect sense for Harper and other western leaders to call a spade a spade, and to be insisting that Russia removes military forces and equipment from Ukraine, at the same time we need not to cut off communications with Russia because we need to co-operate with Russia in many different areas of international affairs and the military-to-military communications are important too.”
At a closing news conference, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said while there were many candid discussions with Putin, “When all is said and done, President Putin was a guest in our country ... and I was happy to treat him with respect and courtesy while he was here in Australia.”
U.S. President Barack Obama described his own exchanges with Putin as “businesslike and blunt.” Obama said if Putin “continues down the path that he is on, violating international law providing heavy arms to the separatists in Ukraine” and violating a ceasefire he agreed to a few weeks ago “then the isolation Russia is currently experience will continue.”
Obama said the world holds out the “possibility of a diplomatic solution,” but he made a thinly veiled threat of more sanctions to come.
“It is not our preference to see Russia isolated the way it is. We would prefer a Russia that is fully integrated to the global economy,” said Obama. He said currently “the sanctions we have in place are biting plenty good,” but Obama warned his advisers are “constantly looking at mechanisms in which to turn up additional pressure as necessary.”
Obama also sounded a note of impatience when asked how he intends to respond to moves to speed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project through the U.S. Congress.
“I guess I’ve got to answer it one more time,” said Obama. “We’re going to let the process play itself out and the determination will be made in the first instance by the Secretary of State, but I won’t hide my opinion about this,” said Obama, “which is that one major determinant of whether we should approve a pipeline shipping Canadian oil to world markets — not to the United States is — does it contribute to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change?”
Obama championed the need for global leaders to step up their game on climate change over the objections of Australian host Tony Abbott and the Canadian delegation which wanted the focus to remain on the global economy.
Last week’s surprise U.S.-China deal on greenhouse gas emissions and Obama’s announcement here of a $3-billion investment into an international climate fund to help poor countries put it squarely on the agenda. Japan joined Obama to pledge $1.5 billion to the fund, and they jointly challenged others.
In the end, the final communiqué out of the international meeting included a strong statement on climate change.
All 20 leaders agreed to “work together to adopt successfully a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” under the UN climate change negotiations that are scheduled to culminate in next year’s Paris conference. They also agreed to mobilize “finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund” that the U.S. and Japan kicked into.
Harper downplayed that particular statement, saying the G20 always has included references to global warming.
However, Harper said Canada would announce its own contributions “in the not too distant future” — presumably at an upcoming conference in Berlin in advance of next year’s climate conference in Paris. Earlier, Canadian officials said Ottawa wanted to reserve discussions around more money for the fund until Paris.
Reuters quoted an EU official who briefed reporters on the tense discussions around global warming that took place behind closed doors in Brisbane.
“The most difficult discussion was on climate change,” the official reportedly said. “This was really trench warfare, this was really step by step by step. In the end we have references to most of the things we wanted.”
Harper praised Abbott for keeping the summit talks focused mainly on the important challenges facing the global economy, and emphasized the “many hundreds of individual measures” that don’t produce headlines “but they are all adding up to real significant action going forward.”
“The G20 — look, whatever its deficiencies — is one of the most valuable summits I go to every year,” said Harper. “And in the end the G20 is really the sole element of governance that we have in what is now a globalized economy.”
But as G20 leaders left Australia, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine dominated the minds of many.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned here that the Russia-Ukraine conflict threatens global stability, expressing concerns about a range of international security challenges.
“The war in Syria continues to destabilize a wide area and cause immense humanitarian suffering. In Syria, Iraq and northern Nigeria, extremist groups control territory larger than that of many countries. Unilateral steps are making a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict seem more elusive than ever. And in the heart of Europe, the Ukraine conflict has raised fear of Cold War-style divisions that can impede our collective efforts to solve problems.
“The current situation is not sustainable for world peace and economy, if and when the world seems to be divided into a Cold War style.”
Putin did not take questions here from international media, and spoke only to Russian reporters at a closing news conference.
An English translation of Putin’s remarks, released by the Kremlin late in the day, showed the Russian leader was unbowed after his bruising G20 weekend. He acknowledged sanctions were raised with him.
“We gave a lot of attention to issues concerning Ukraine of course during the bilateral meetings. As far as sanctions go, we discussed the view that sanctions are harmful for everyone concerned, for those hit by the sanctions and for those who impose them.”
“We talked about what we need to do to gradually find a way out of this situation,” Putin said.
A Kremlin press officer told the Star Putin did not find himself isolated at the summit “at all.” Andrei Varlamov said Putin’s position to the far left on the “family photo” stage was “organized” by the host: “Did you see how they escorted them to the family photo, like in rows like soldiers, it was all pre-positioned.”
He said Putin had constructive exchanges and full formal bilateral meetings at his hotel with German, French, European Union leaders, the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, and French President François Hollande.
Varlamov declined to comment on how Putin reacted to the pressure on him here and the threats that sanctions could increase.
But on the eve of the G20 meeting, Putin acknowledged sanctions are hurting his country.
He told German television: “Of course we want to have normal relations with our partners, including in the United States and Europe. Of course, the situation with the so-called sanctions is damaging for the global economy -it is damaging for us and it is damaging for global economy as well- and it is damaging for the Russian‑EU relations most of all.”
But Putin insisted sanctions “contradict international law, which governs economic relations, the WTO principles and the agreements we will try to reach during the G20summit. It comes into direct collision.”