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September 10, 2016 No.
6605

Russia Plays The Role Of Global Power At The G-20 Summit

At the G-20 summit (September 4-5), Russian President Vladimir Putin had several meetings with international leaders, which focused inter alia on the Ukrainian and Syrian crises, Russia-Latin America relations, and economic trade. Putin's goal is to restore Russia's role as a global player, capable of projecting power in the Middle East, Latin America, and in the Asia-Pacific region in addition to neighboring Europe. At the G-20, Putin met with U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Saudi Arabia's deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Sa'ud, Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri and had an informal group meeting with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) leaders. It is also worth noting that on the way back from the G20, Putin met King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain in Moscow, on September 6. The meeting was accompanied by the signing of several agreements on trade relations and military cooperation.[1]

The G-20 summit came on the heels of the Eastern Economic Forum hosted by Russia in Vladivostok on September 2-3, aimed at promoting the Russian Far East's economic development and expanding international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Below is a survey of Putin's busy schedule of meetings at the G-20:

Russia-US Relations: New Sanctions On Russia And Attempts To Reach Agreement On Syria

On September 5, Putin and US President Barack Obama met for 90 minutes behind closed doors. Obama and Putin talked one-on-one, focusing on Ukraine and the Syrian settlement. However, the two leaders failed to find a solution on achieving a humanitarian ceasefire in Aleppo that would launch the process of solving the Syrian crisis. However, the Russian daily Vedomosti, quoted Russian sources lamenting the American reactions to the initial failure to reach an understanding as "alarmist" and "overdramatized". A Russian source cited by Vedomosti claimed that there were two major points of disagreement on the Syrian crisis: Determining which armed groups would be designated terrorists and how a humanitarian corridor in Aleppo could be secured.[2]

During a September 5 meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, Putin answered questions on his talks with the US President over Syria, and said that Russia is pursuing dialogue with its Turkish and American partners. However, Putin stressed that Russia would not endorse anything "that would go counter to international law." He then added: "I don't think I can say anything final right now, because the US State Department [John Kerry] and our Foreign Ministry [Sergey Lavrov] are still finalizing several preliminary agreements, but I think that we are on the right road and could reach an agreement for some period of time on what we can do together, and I emphasize this, by way of strenuous efforts to improve the situation in Syria. Of course we would have to consult with the Syrian government and would have to keep our other partners informed, including Iran."

On September 10, Lavrov and Kerry agreed on a new ceasefire plan, which includes a ban on government airstrikes in certain areas and cooperation on strikes against jihadists. Lavrov said that Russia and the US had agreed to coordinate airstrikes in Syria, "provided there is a sustained period of reduced violence." Lavrov stated that the ceasefire comes into effect on September 12 and should last for at least seven days.[3]


Putin with Obama at the meeting. (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2016)
 

Meanwhile, Russia-US relations remain tense. Washington has recently announced a further extension of sanctions against Russia by adding 11 Russian companies to the list of those companies blocked from doing business with the US. The sanctions include a number of the Russian energy giant Gazprom's subsidiaries. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said that Russia will retaliate.[4] Peskov commented that the extension of sanctions is "seriously dissonant with the issues relating to possible cooperation in the sensitive areas discussed at the two presidents' meeting."[5]

On September 7, Lavrov had a phone conversation with Kerry, regarding the new wave of sanctions. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported: "[Lavrov] expressed indignation over new US sanctions on Russia imposed under the pretext of the Ukraine crisis. He emphasized that good cooperation, including on settling regional conflicts, which the Obama administration continues to seek during working contacts, is impossible without observing a basic code of conduct."[6]

During the aforementioned round of questions following his meeting with Obama, Putin was asked if the sanctions issue came up in the meeting. Putin replied that the US sanction do not have a major impact on Russia, since Russia-US trade relations with are not so "important", but then added that he hopes to restore "full-fledged" relations with the US.  Putin explained: "Yes, we did raise the sanctions matter in passing, but we did not discuss it in detail, because I see no sense in discussing matters of this sort. It was not our initiative to impose these sanctions. I think discussions on this issue will be something for the future, if we get to this point. I do hope that we will eventually get to this point and will normalize in full our relations with the United States too, which is certainly a very important partner in our eyes. Our bilateral trade with the United States was rather minimal to start with though, only around $28 billion, and now it has dropped to $20 billion. In other words, to be honest, our trade and economic relations with the United States are not so important."

He then injected a note of criticism: "As for restrictions on technology, they never ended and the CoCom [Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls] restrictions were never properly abolished. The lists shrank and were formally lifted, but restrictions remained even when relations were at a high point (in the early and mid-1990s), when there were seemingly no clouds on the horizon. Even then, restrictions were still in place. Now, they have simply increased the restrictions a little. They have not done so completely and absolutely. But this is not a normal state of relations and we would like to restore full-fledged relations with the United States."

Answering a question on how he would have reacted had Obama  said in a "humane way" that he went too far with sanctions on Russia, Putin said: "So impose sanctions, but in a humane way? (Laughter.) Humanely or not... As diplomats say, there is a substantive part of our relations. If they take steps to worsen our relations then there is no getting away from that. And there are decisions, including those related to sanctions. However, if they want to restore relations, evidently these decisions should simply be reversed and that's it. As for how this will be done, in what form, that is another matter...However, I would like our partners in the US also to treat us with the same standards and from the same positions. That's all."[7]

Russia-Turkey Relations Are All About Business

On September 3, ahead of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a meeting with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the restoration of full-scale bilateral cooperation. During the meeting, Putin informed his counterpart that accompanying him to the G20 was a "powerful delegation" that included the heads of Russia's leading energy companies - Gazprom, Rosneft and Rosatom - the energy minister, the head of the sovereign investment fund, and the economy and foreign ministers. Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the two leaders discussed the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Meanwhile, charter flights between Russia and Turkey have already resumed.[8]  

On September 5, on the last day of the G20, Putin answered questions from Russian journalists. Asked whether Turkey's decision to send troops into Syria surprised Russia, Putin answered: "As far as surprises are concerned, we have our Foreign Ministry and intelligence services precisely to reduce the number of surprises. In principle, we had an idea of what was going on and where things were going. You could see it after all, the troop movements, the objectives, and the problems that Turkey has encountered in connection with events in Syria. And Turkey has many problems here. I think you don't need to be a great analyst to realize what kinds of problems these are. We see all of this and overall, there were no surprises for us here. But at the same time, I say again that we will not welcome any action that runs counter to international law's norms and principles." He then added: "As for the question of restoring our bilateral relations, this work is going according to plan. It is progressing not as fast as our Turkish partners would like, but we have an interest in acting swiftly too. It is always a very rapid process to demolish something, but building it anew is always far more complicated..."[9]


Presidents Putin and Erdogan. (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 3)
 

Meetings With France And Germany's Leaders On The Normandy Format

On September 4, Putin met with French President Francois Hollande. In the meeting, the French President told Putin: "I think we should discuss the situations in Syria and Ukraine, since we are all involved in addressing these problems. As for Ukraine, we need to discuss further cooperation in the Normandy format. As for Syria, here we need to move towards full-fledged dialogue."[10]


Meeting between Presidents Putin and Hollande (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 4)

Posting on his Facebook account, Hollande wrote that during his meeting with Putin, he reminded the Russian president that it was important to set the conditions for finding a political solution for Ukraine and Syria. He explained that in Ukraine, the parties involved should continue the Minsk process and settle the current bottlenecks, and notably the implementation of the special status, the security situation, and the mistrust between the parties. Hollande also disclosed that it had been agreed that a summit between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine would be organized in the next few weeks.[11]

Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met late at night on September 4 to discuss the situation in Eastern Ukraine and the Syrian settlement. Concerning Ukraine, they focused on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.[12]


Meeting between Putin and Merkel (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016)
 

Asked by journalists on September 5 whether he planned to speak to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Putin said: "Probably, what else can I do? I will have to speak with him. I said to the Federal Chancellor [Merkel] and the French President [Hollande] that it is not a question of whether to meet or not, but a question of whether our meetings produce some positive steps towards a settlement. I do not think it makes sense to hold meetings just for the sake of it. I had the impression that no one wants to meet just for the sake of it, except perhaps Mr. Poroshenko, perhaps. I do not know, as I have not spoken to him for a long time."


Putin during his meeting with Merkel. (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016)

Russia-UK May Upgrade Relations

On September 4, Putin met as well with British Prime Minister Theresa May. This was the first time the two leaders met. Putin expressed his wish to take Russia-UK bilateral relations "to a higher level relative to where they are now." May answered that while differences between the two countries exist, there are "some complex and serious areas of concern and issues to discuss."

During the meeting, the two leaders reportedly discussed security, counter-terrorism, the Syrian settlement, and aviation safety. The two leaders agreed that a UK Transport Ministry delegation would visit Moscow soon to continue the discussion of aviation safety and that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would meet his British counterpart Boris Johnson in New York at the session of the UN General Assembly.[13]

 
Putin with May (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016)
 

Russia And Saudi Arabia Agree To Limit Oil Production, But The 'Problem' Is Iran

On the sidelines of the G-20 summit in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to maintain stability on the crude oil market. The Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih and Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak stressed in the joint statement that "the current challenges in the supply side of the global oil market, including major contraction of capital investments in oil extraction on a global scale, particularly in exploration, as well as mass deferrals of investment projects," made the market, as a whole, "more volatile and therefore unsustainable to both producers and consumers in the long term". In the statement, the ministers underlined that "close cooperation among major oil producing countries is crucial to oil market stability to ensure sustainable levels of investment for the long term."

Russian minister Novak stated that this agreement is opening "a new era" of Russian-Saudi cooperation. Novak added: "I am confident that this new stage of relations between the two countries, OPEC and non-members. This is a historic moment, in my opinion."

Concerning Saudi Arabia and oil freeze, the Saudi regime needs oil at a higher price than currently is, so that Aramco could be valued at $2-3 trillion by the time they float the IPO (Initial Public Offering) that could offer investors 5% of Aramco. Reuters cited an oil industry source who claimed that the Saudis "want higher oil prices for a better Aramco valuation". After the agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia, global crude prices surged. Brent crude prices recorded a 5% spike but then fell back to a 1.6% gain.

Novak and his Saudi counterpart agreed to hold an October meeting in Moscow to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sector. Meanwhile, on September 26-28, Algiers will host the International Energy Forum. Venezuela, Ecuador and Kuwait have initiated a new round of talks on capping oil production to be held at the forum. Meanwhile, Venezuelan oil minister Eulogio del Pino, whose country's severe economic crisis has been exacerbated by plummeting oil prices, praised the agreement reached by Russia and Saudi Arabia to stabilize the prices of crude oil. "Besides, this initiative falls in line with the strategy that Venezuela has been working on at [Venezuelan] President Nicolas Maduro's instruction in recent months in order to seal agreements between the largest producers of crude," said the Venezuelan minister.[14]


Novak and Al-Falih congratulate each other on their handiwork (Source: Arabnews.com)
 

On September 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al Sa'ud, the son of the current Saudi king and the country's defense minister, on the sidelines of the G-20. The two leaders, who are supporting the opposing sides in Syria, paid compliments to each other.

Putin stressed that Russia believes that "without Saudi Arabia no serious issue in the region can be resolved," adding that it is important that two parts maintain a regular dialogue. Bin Salman also stressed the importance of Russia-Saudi relations. The Crown Prince said: "For us, the relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia are also of great importance. They are certainly strategic in nature and, therefore, cooperation and coordination between Russia and Saudi Arabia are essential." Bin Salman also stated that Saudi Arabia believes that Russia is not only an important "world player," but also "a great power." He said: "As for our cooperation with Russia, it proceeds on a privileged basis. That is why our work together brings a lot of benefits to the Middle East. We would certainly prefer to avoid any negative scenario in the Middle East, and so would you. We would like to ramp up economic cooperation and want it to not just continue, but to progress faster."


Meeting between Putin and Bin Salman Al Sa'ud (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016)

Putin was pressed by journalists on the oil price issue and said that relations with Saudi Arabia are of a "friendly" nature and that Riyadh did not rule out the possibility of freezing oil production. However, he added that Iran posed a problem if oil prices were to be stabilized acknowledged that the Iranians had a case since Iran's production was at a minimum. Therefore it was equitable for Iran to increase production until it reached the pre-sanctions level. Putin said: "We agree on the need to work together in some way or other on the world oil market. On the whole - surely you know this - Saudi Arabia did not rule out the possibility of freezing production, and there have been long-running discussions on this issue. What is the problem there? The problem is Iran's increasing production. However, in my opinion, as I said earlier, under the sanctions, Iran's production was at a minimum, and so I consider it fair if Iran reaches its pre-sanctions level. There is nothing wrong with this. Iran does not have excessive demands. Nevertheless, unfortunately, we know about the peculiarities of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. We try not to interfere. However, my impression in the course of contacts with the Saudis is that they do not actually rule this out for themselves, either. As for the price, what should the price be? I will give you a very specific answer: The price should be fair." Answering to question on whether the price of oil is fair now, Putin said: "Not now. It could be a little higher. However, bearing in mind that, as you know, our budget was calculated based on $40 per barrel, this suits us. In principle, the present price suits us."[15]

Egypt Is 'Russia's Longstanding And Reliable Friend'

On September 5, Putin met with Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi. Putin said Egypt is a "priority partner" and "Russia's longstanding and reliable friend". Al-Sisi stressed that Egypt is "constant in its desire" to develop Russia-Egypt bilateral relations and take them to a "new level of strategic partnership". Al-Sisi also noted that the Russian company Rosatom has already started work on building a nuclear power plant at El Dabaa. Al-Sisi also agreed with Putin that a Russian delegation would be sent to Egypt to inspect airport security as a prelude to the resumption of commercial flights between the two countries. Russia stopped flights to Egypt, after a Russian jet crashed on takeoff from Sinai's Sharm El-Sheikh, killing all 224 passengers onboard.[16]


Presidents Putin and Al-Sisi. (Source: Kremlin.ru, September 5)

Russia And China 'Safeguard' Each Other's Sovereignty

Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that two leaders called for "firm support in each other's efforts to safeguard sovereignty".

They also discussed strategic cooperation, and dovetailing China's the Belt and Road Initiative (Economic Belt and Silk Road) with the Eurasian Economic Union championed by Russia. Xi also said that China considers "Russia's prosperity and development," as a boost to China's "own chance to develop."[17]

 
Presidents Putin and Xi (Source: Sputniknews.com)

Discussing Business With Latin America

On September 5, Putin met with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. Argentina will hold the G-20 presidency in 2018. During the meeting, Putin stressed that Argentina is one of Russia's "most prominent trade and economic partners" in Latin America. Bilateral trade between the two countries increased by 1.7 percent, over the first six months of 2016. Macri told Putin that Russia and Argentina need to develop cooperation in the energy sector, particularly in the field of hydroelectric power plants. For his part, Putin said that Russia is ready to advance agreements between the Russian energy corporation Gazprom and its Argentine counterpart YPF. The Russian President also suggested that since Argentina will soon chair the Latin American trade bloc Mercosur, Russia wants to move forward with the trade and economic cooperation agreement between Mercosur and the Eurasian Economic Union.[18]


Presidents Putin and Macri. (Source: Kremlin.ru, September, 5)

Informal BRICS Meeting

On September 4, Putin had several meetings. An informal meeting between BRICS leaders (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) took place prior to the start of the G20. During the meeting, Putin stated: " The BRICS states have already increased their total share in the IMF capital to 14.89 percent, very close to the blocking threshold of 15 percent. And they certainly need to continue in this direction, advancing the reform of the IMF."[19]


The BRICS leaders in a group photo at the summit (Source: Sputniknews.com)

Putin Discusses Russia-Japan Relations

Putin surveyed Russia-Japan relations, during the round of questions with journalists. Putin said: "Japan has a particular relationship with the United States, not because it is a member of the G-7, but because in its foreign policy line, it takes into account and to a large extent looks to the opinion of its main strategic partner - the United States. This was what led to the restrictions in our contacts over the last 12-18 months. We found this odd in the sense that Japan seemed to have an interest in developing our dialogue, especially on a peace treaty and on resolving related issues (our talks on the territorial issue), but at Japan's initiative these contacts were effectively suspended. Now though, we have returned to the negotiating table and are working on these matters." Putin stressed that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made some very interesting proposals when he came to Sochi, last May. Putin said: "He proposed that we reflect on and develop eight main areas for economic cooperation. I think this is extremely important in order to resolve the pressing economic tasks our countries face today, and in order to put in place the conditions for resolving other issues too, including those of a political nature."

Prior to the G20, Putin met with Abe at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok and tackled the issue of the Kuril Islands dispute. [20] In an interview with Bloomberg, in Vladivostok, Putin discussed the Kuril Islands dispute. Putin said: "We do not trade territories although concluding a peace treaty with Japan is certainly a key issue and we would like to find a solution to this problem together with our Japanese friends. Back in 1956, we signed a treaty and surprisingly it was ratified both by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and the Japanese Parliament. But then Japan refused to implement it and after that the Soviet Union also, so to say, nullified all the agreements reached within the framework of the treaty.

"Some years ago our Japanese counterparts asked us to resume the discussions of the issue and so we did meeting them halfway. Over the past couple of years the contacts were practically frozen on the initiative of the Japanese side, not ours. At the same time, presently our partners have expressed their eagerness to resume discussions on this issue. It has nothing to do with any kind of exchange or sale. It is about the search for a solution when neither party would be at a disadvantage, when neither party would perceive itself as conquered or defeated."[21]  

Strange But True Things That Happened At The G20

It was reported that on September 3, after his meeting with Erdogan, it took Putin and his entourage a long time to get to their hotel time. The Russian journalist Andrei Kolesnikov and a long-time member of the presidential pool, told Kommersant FM radio station: "For an hour and a half, we circled around the famous West Lake... The driver wasn't local; maybe he too wanted to enjoy the beauty of the lake and couldn't get enough of it."[22]

On September 4, during his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May another mishap took place. Before the meeting started, Putin stretched out his hand to May for the protocol handshake, but May had already sat down. Putin then had to ask May to stand up again and shake hands.[23]


Putin shaking hands with May. (Source: Krelin.ru, September 4, 2016)

As a friendly gesture, Putin brought a box of Russian ice-cream as a gift to the Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is a fan of Russian ice-cream.[24]

 

Endnotes: 

 

[1] Kremlin.ru, September 6, 2016.

[2] Vedomosti.ru, September 5, 2016.

[3] .Rt.com, September 10, 2016.

[4] Echo.msk.ru, September 2, 2016.

[5] Tass.ru, September 7, 2016.

[6] Mid.ru, September 7, 2016.

[7] Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2016.

[8] Kremlin.ru, September 3, 2016.

[9] Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2016.

[10] Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016.

[11] Facebook.com/francoishollande.fr, September 4, 2016.

[12] Tagesschau.de, September 4, 2016.

[13] Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016, Sputniknews.com, September 4, 2016.

[14] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6600, At The G-20 Russia And Saudi Arabia Agree To Limit Oil Production, September 6, 2016.

[15] Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2016.

[16] Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2016; Ahram.org.eg, September 5, 2016.

[17] Xinhua, September 4, 2016; Rt.com, September 4, 2016; Sputniknews.com, September 4, 2016.

[18] Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2016; Buenosairesherald.com, September 6, 2016.

[19] Kremlin.ru, September 4, 2016.

[20] Sputniknews.com, September 3, 2016.

[21] Kremlin.ru, September 1, 2016.

[22] Rbth.com, September 6, 2016.

[23] Rbth.com, September 6, 2016.

[24] Sputniknews.com, September 4, 2016.