Glenn Reynolds refers to this as “smart diplomacy – the real thing,” but it’s based on the very dumb diplomacy rolled out by Vladimir Putin over the past year. Brisbane, Australia hosts the G-20 meeting this week, and Putin decided to make a point by sending a war flotilla of the Russian navy to the waters north of Australia, in order to make the point that, er … he’s a reasonable guy, or something:
But it was clear that Putin’s actions over the past few days were top of mind for the leaders.
Abbott lashed out at the Russian leader for apparently flexing his military muscles by sending four Russian navy ships to stalk Australia’s northern coast in the days leading up to the G20 summit.
“Russia would be so much more attractive if it was aspiring to be a superpower for peace and freedom and prosperity, if it was trying to be a superpower for ideas and for values, instead of trying to recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the old Soviet Union,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Putin found himself snubbed as a result, although maybe not as much as he should have been:
Putin’s isolation was evident with his placing on the outer edge for the formal G20 leaders’ photograph. While Obama and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping were met by Australia’s governor general and attorney general when they arrived in Brisbane, Putin was greeted by the assistant defense minister.
Despite being under intense pressure, Putin was all smiles, shaking hands with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The host had threatened to “shirt front”, or physically confront, Putin over the downing of MH17, in which 28 Australians died.
The chilly greeting led to a diplomatic irregularity — having a head of state wandering aimlessly looking for some personal contact. Normally the greetings and handshakes of world leaders get negotiated ahead of time by the diplomats of the nations involved to avoid embarrassment for either party. Putin, however, decided to put Canadian PM Stephen Harper on the spot, and immediately regretted it:
Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald told Canadian reporters Harper had been chatting with a handful of other leaders when Putin entered the room.
Putin approached Harper and stuck out his hand to shake the Canadian prime minister’s, said MacDonald.
After months of public condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military support for separatist rebels in Ukraine, Harper accepted the handshake with a blunt message.
The prime minister said: “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,” recounted MacDonald.
“Mr. Putin did not respond positively,” he said, declining to offer any further details about their conversation, or whether there were any other similar comments by other leaders who were there.
The press flack for Putin claimed to be surprised by this version of events, insisting that Putin and Harper “greeted” each other. Perhaps they mean in the same manner that the Russian navy is “greeting” the north coast of Australia.
Putin complained at the G20 about the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, claiming that they violate international law:
Cameron threatened Russia with further sanctions if it doesn’t resolve the Ukrainian conflict amid reports that Russian troops and tanks are flooding into the eastern reaches of Ukraine.
Harper has been a vehement Putin critic for months, with Canada and Russia trading a number of retaliatory sanctions.
He recently condemned the “continued penetration of Russian presence in eastern Ukraine and obvious actions to extend and provoke additional violence. That’s of great concern to us.”
Russia, meantime, took aim at France on the eve of the summit, threatening “serious” consequences if it fails to deliver a warship whose handover has been delayed by the events in Ukraine.
Putin also assailed his fellow G20 nations for imposing sanctions at all, saying in an interview with Russia’s state media that the measures violated G20 principles.
Coming from a man who amputated Crimea by military force and then tried to do the same in eastern Ukraine, complaints about economic transgressions against international law are almost as comical as his attempt to impress the G20. Without high oil prices to keep him and his cronies afloat, Putin may be too clumsy to survive in the long run. The Western-led effort to bring oil prices low needs to continue until Putin buckles under the strain, or his cronies look for someone more suited to the role of world leader.