Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Uninvited Guest

As world leaders gather in St. Petersburg to discuss the fragile global economic recovery, one uninvited guest is poised to crash the party and make a whole lot of noise: the Syrian crisis. As proof of the use of chemical weapons is gathered, dead bodies continue to pile up and the threat of a regional conflagration involving Israel, Iran and Iraq rises, the Syrian civil war will be the elephant in the room at the Russian G20 Summit and might very well overtake the economy as the focal point of discussions, thereby changing the nature of the organization by osmosis.

Up to this point, global security matters have been the “jurisdiction” of the G8, not the G20. Aside from an informal meeting of the G20’s Foreign Ministers in Mexico in February 2012, the organization has refrained from expanding its mandate. But the ongoing war in Syria, the East versus West deadlock over rogue states and the threat they pose as well the economic disruptions coming from the Middle East make it now painfully obvious that the world’s great powers, some of which have been playing the Cold War game in the past three years, must now come together, agree to a solution and carry it out.

Russia’s reluctance to play the new multipolar game and its bad habit of falling back to Soviet-style foreign policy of Western fear-mongering, UN vetoes and arming rogue regimes has been ridiculously puzzling. In fact, if there was a country which could have made a strong and swift difference and increased its standing through a proactive role, it would have been Russia.

Obama’s scheduled one-on-one meeting with the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping will certainly aim at finding common ground with China for them to at least abstain vetoing a UN Security Council resolution, and its secondary aim is certainly to make Vladimir Putin isolated – the Snowden affair being a convenient excuse to avoid a larger discussion on foreign policy.

In the past 24 hours however, Putin has changed his tune to something more reasonable and pragmatic, echoing the United Nations’ Ban Ki Moon, shifting from drastically opposing any action on Syria to possibly endorsing a strike at the Security Council if the proof is made public and actually adds up – which is balanced position, all things considered. The pressures from the diplomatic back channels must have been intense.

Hosting the G20 is a moment for prestige for a country, a moment to shine. But for Vladimir Putin, it is his last window of opportunity for a certain time as a global statesman, to build bridges and play a constructive game and get Russia to step out of the shadow of the USSR, embrace multilateralism and play a meaningful role in the global community.

Stay tuned and watch how the US, Russian and Chinese discourses on Syria change in the coming days - it might just herald the changing nature of the G20.

*** 15:30 EDT UPDATE ***

I have just received this Google Alert out of Reuters:

G20 foreign ministers to attend Russia summit to discuss Syria
Source: Reuters - Tue, 3 Sep 2013 02:59 PM

PARIS, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from key G20 member states will convene on the sidelines of this week's meeting in St Petersburg to discuss Syria, France said on Tuesday.

"(French) Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will travel on Sept. 5 and 6 to meet foreign ministers present at the G20 summit, notably those of the United States, Brazil, China, Russia and Turkey," Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot told reporters.

A French diplomatic source said the ministers, who do not usually attend G20 summits, would meet to specifically talk about the Syria crisis and discuss political perspectives. (Reporting By John Irish, editing by Mike Peacock).


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