As the Group of 20 (G20) Summit kicks off its two-day weekend this year, the presence of Russian troops and rebels in Ukraine continues to be a major issue for President Vladimir Putin. Western leaders gathered this weekend to discuss global economic growth, but tensions between Russia and Ukraine stood at the forefront of many interactions. Upon being extended a hand by Putin, Canadian Prime Minister (PM) Stephen Harper said, “I guess I’ll shake your hand” and then demanded that the Russian President “get out of Ukraine.” The bold, confrontational statement was followed by Putin denying that Russian troops were in Ukraine.
In March, Russia annexed nearby Crimea, thus removing the region from Ukrainian political control, a move that has since resulted in heavy sanctions from the EU and other Western nations. Australian Prime Minister, the host of this years G20 Summit, voiced strong opposition to Russia, advising Putin to cease his efforts to bring back “the lost glories of czarism or the old Soviet Union.” Abbott even threatened to “shirt-front” Putin, a sports term indicating his desire to confront his Russian counterpart on his recent decisions.
Flexing his military muscle, Putin apparently sent four Russian ships to sail near Australia’s northern coast, much further south than the ships normally travel. The U.S. Navy reportedly followed the Russian ships to determine their destination. Members of the Russian embassy said the warships were nearby to provide security for Putin. The tensions between the world’s leaders and Russia at the G20 summit may be the cause of Putin’s anxiety as Ukraine is still a major issue this year.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who was previously more lenient toward Putin’s behavior, remarked that the European Union (EU) was considering additional financial sanctions in response to these latest actions.There are currently sanctions on Russia’s energy, military, and financial sectors. Other restrictions include bans on travel and frozen assets of Russian leaders.
President Obama said that Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine was “a threat to the world.” Fighting in the region has already cost 4,000 lives, including what Obama called “the appalling shoot down of MH-17.” Ukrainian Australians demonstrated outside the summit wearing “Putin,Killer” headbands and lying on the Ukranian flag. Reports conflict on whether Russian-backed rebels or the Ukrainian military were responsible for the plane downed on July 17th which killed 298 people.
David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, spoke about the Ukraine-Russia crisis stating that the countries would have a “very different relationship” if Russian troops remain in Ukraine. Cameron and Putin spoke in a private meeting with the hope of rebuilding their relationship. Putin also met with Francois Hollande, France’s Prime Minister, in an effort to reduce tensions between the two countries. France declined to deliver two warships to the Russian navy in response to its aggression toward Ukraine.
While the G20 Summit gathers to discuss issues of global economics, the Ukrainian crisis with Russia was not the only contender for the summit’s agenda as a major issue. G20 leaders released a statement in which they listed job creation, climate change, and the Ebola outbreak as other objectives for its members. President Obama’s recent climate deal with China’s President Xi Jinping may interrupt Abbott’s desire not to discuss climate change at this year’s summit. Ban Ki-moon, head of the United Nations, believes the environment should be a top priority at summit as “the defining issue of our times.” Aside from challenging Russia and Putin over Ukraine, the summit also has the goal of increasing global GDP by two percent in the next five years.
By Didi Anofienem
Photo By: Steve Evans – Flickr License