The recent G20 summit involving the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies held in Antalya, Turkey, bore witness to the increasing disintegration of the global architecture that the US and its closest allies have been persistently creating since the 1990s.
The global economic crisis, the rapid escalation of the refugee problem, the rise in international terrorism and the simultaneous intensification of Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space, the Middle East and other strategically important areas of the world have been key to the significant changes in the system of international relations. As such, the US newspaper The Wall Street Journal emphasised that Russian President Vladimir Putin in particular was a central figure during the G20 summit, while the impact of the terrorist attacks in Paris suggests the futility of the West’s attempt to push for the international isolation of Russia.
Three events played a key role in the work of the G20 summit in Antalya and the Russian president participated in all of them. Foremost among them was the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The tone of the statements issued by the Chinese leader was unprecedented in terms of Beijing’s support for Moscow, especially if you consider the traditional restraint and floweriness of Chinese diplomacy. Among other things, Xi Jinping stressed that, «whenever Russia faces difficulties or misfortunes, the Chinese people and I will always stand by your side, on the side of the Russian people». Furthermore, China can be expected to join the air operations in Syria alongside Russia in the near future.
But while the strategic partnership between Russia and China has been steadily strengthening and developing in recent years, a new format of Russian-Turkish cooperation is literally emerging before our very eyes. After winning the recent elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is now having to objectively consider the real geopolitical situation in the whole of the Middle East – a situation that is changing, in particular through the active efforts of Russia in Syria. Moreover, it has finally become clear over the last couple of years that the European Union and the US are unable to ensure the energy security of Europe without Russia’s energy resources.
Both of these factors are forcing Ankara to meet Moscow halfway even on those issues on which a compromise previously seemed impossible, particularly with regard to the political role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey is also being increasingly drawn into a struggle with Saudi Arabia for geopolitical leadership in the region. Its potential allies in this struggle are effectively Iran, Syria and Qatar, and the deepening social and economic crisis of the Saudi regime is increasing Turkey’s chances of success. In this conditions, Russia is justifiably seeking to maintain and strengthen relations with all the key players in the region, as evidenced by the meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit between President Putin and the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, which took place behind closed doors far from the media spotlight.
Taking into account the full range of existing problems, it stands to reason that we should not expect all the details of the talks between Putin and Erdoğan to be made public. It is one of those times, however, when the absence of high-profile official declarations is evidence of a progress in working relationship. In terms of energy issues, the necessary information was promptly announced by Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, who expressed optimism regarding the speedy implementation of the Turkish Stream project. «The reason is that we’ve reached an agreement with our Turkish colleagues that the pipe via the Black Sea will be run in the same corridor as the South Stream pipeline», Miller explained. «Therefore, the timeline for the implementation of the Turkish Stream project may be very short... Today we’re talking about the fact that it’s reasonable to consider the construction of two lines and that the pipeline’s capacity may total up to 32 billion cubic metres of gas per year», stated Miller.
With regard to Ankara’s view of how to address problems including those related to terrorism, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has again shown that his country has its own approach deeply embedded in its desire to receive concrete financial benefits. He has openly called for the international financial sector to provide money to address poverty and unemployment, since he claims that these are the factors fuelling terrorist attacks. The refugee problem is also providing Turkey with the long-term opportunity to keep its hand on the ‘military alert’ switch for the European Union. According to the information available, more than one million refugees will arrive in Europe this year. Meanwhile, various estimates tell that there are currently another two to three million people in Turkey itself ready to make their way through the Balkans and on to the EU.
For obvious reasons, however, these issues were not included in the text of the summit’s official documents. In particular, a separate statement by the G20 said only that countries will work together more closely to «suppress terrorist acts».
The current situation is forcing the West, represented by the US and the leaders of the European Commission, to look for ways to re-establish cooperation with Russia. In this regard, the 35-minute meeting that took place in Antalya between the presidents of Russia and the US was very significant. And although the Kremlin has warned against high expectations from the meeting, which, according to Moscow, was not «ground-breaking», its significance nevertheless goes beyond a strictly bilateral framework. For the pro-American ruling elites in many countries of Europe, Asia and Latin America, Barack Obama is not just an «older brother», but the indisputable leader of their own domestic and foreign policies. The meeting between the presidents of Russia and the US in Antalya will therefore be a signal for these countries to depart from their own anti-Russian rhetoric. It is symptomatic that when the White House Press Office commented on the meeting between Obama and Putin, for the first time in recent years there was no sign of the traditional propaganda attacks on Moscow regarding Syria and Ukraine. The Press Office even suggested that the US and Russia had allegedly reached a «tacit agreement» on the future of Syria based on eliminating the Islamic State and creating a Syrian «confederation» temporarily headed by Bashar al-Assad.
In terms of the balance of power within the G20 as a whole, a significant number of countries in the organisation already support, either directly or indirectly, Russia’s position and its efforts towards combating international terrorism and resolving Syrian crisis. In particular, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff stated the need for the global community to coordinate their anti-terrorism efforts. This was also expressed by Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20, who stressed that, «terrorism is transnational and requires a response coordinated at the international level». In this regard, the Brazilian newspaper Folha criticised European Council President Donald Tusk, who stated: «We guarantee that the European strategy for combating terrorism will meet the challenges facing us in the coming months». According to the Brazilian newspaper, «it is unlikely that Tusk was right when he alleged that the European strategy completely addresses the problems being faced», while at the same time characterising the current state of mind in the world as «a time of panic».
But panicking is the lot of weak nations and politicians. The recent G20 summit clearly demonstrates that despite the best efforts of the West, Russia is not only not isolated, but, conversely, is stepping up its military, political, diplomatic and economic progress in the world.