Translation: The G20 and the Ghosts of Progress

In this op-ed piece posted on Lenta, Anton Klyuchkin analyzes the effects of recent Kremlin decisions, admonishing their results for pushing the country away from the West.  Looking past the rhetoric, however, a better picture of the retaliatory nature of Russian-American relations comes into view, one in which both sides seem determined to antagonize the other.

Ghosts of Progress

Russia used the G20 Summit for another quarrel with the USA

The G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, opening on the 5th of September, positions itself as a platform for the discussion of economic questions.  But world leaders are going to Russia to discuss, in the first place, the situation in Syria.  The Russian side, which organizes the summit, has already set the tone for the meeting, falling upon the United States with another portion of criticism and having refused itself, thus, the right to act simultaneously as peacekeeper and as an equitable partner in dialogue with Washington.

On the eve of the meetings with colleagues in Petersburg, Vladimir Putin, the host of the summit, gave an extensive interview to Russian Channel 1 and the American agency AP, having declared that Russia can support a military operation in Syria, the authorization on which Obama is seeking from the United States Congress.   The Russian leader, however, specified that Moscow can take such a step only if the UN Security Council receives proof that the forces of Bashar Assad employed chemical weapons against the civilian population, and sanctions intervention.  This step of the Russian leader towards his counterpart, who has already lost hope for constructive dialogue with Moscow, has turned out to be, however, a step back: Obama has repeatedly spoken about his decision to lead a military operation without regard to the UN Security Council.  Moscow is trying to prevent such a scenario at all costs.

During the interview, Putin expressed his desire to meet with the American president at the G20 Summit.  However, it is hard to say whether the leaders of Russia and America will be able to discuss their divisions regarding the situation in Syria (as well as other irregularities in bilateral relations) during the summit in Petersburg.  The fact of the matter is that a bilateral meeting was not officially planned out, as both sides were preparing negotiations between Obama and Putin in Moscow.   At the beginning of August however, soon after Russia granted provisional asylum to the former American intelligence employee Eduard Snowden, Washington cancelled the meeting, citing insufficient progress in the relations of both countries.

During the current year, relations between Moscow and the United States gradually deteriorated, and are now at perhaps the lowest point since 2008.  At the last meeting with Obama during the G8 summit in July in Northern Ireland, the Russian president appeared displeased – he had failed to establish relations with the American leader, even on a personal level.  As a result, progress in relations of the two countries has slowed down, including those directions that both sides had earlier regarded as promising.

In Moscow’s view, America is quite knowingly and purposefully inflicting damage to bilateral relations, devoting such excessive attention to the question of the observance of human rights in Russia.  What’s more, during his presidential election campaign, Putin openly accused the US of financing his opponents.   Washington is bothered by the fact that a number of proposals, including initiatives in the area of reduction of nuclear arsenals, have met with no responses from the Russian side. The Russian Federation’s position on Syria has further intensified opposition between Moscow and Washington, and Putin’s decision to give refuge to Snowden turned out to be the last straw.  The dissatisfaction of both sides towards one another is breaking out via mutual attacks.  Soon after the meeting with Putin in Northern Ireland, Obama compared the Russian president with bored school kid sitting in the back row, and then stated on the television channel NBC that Russian partners, including the country’s president, are quite frequently using methods from the Cold War era, even though it ended two decades ago.  Hope for the improvement of relations with Putin during the next few years of Obama’s presidential term are few: the Russian side, feeling that its position in international politics is extremely weak, often acts as if it were an irritated youth.

Russia’s inability to restrain the actions of the United States in Syria is compensated by its voluntary participation in the “International Defense of Runaway Programmers”, and by odd retorts from Russian politicians from different levels.  Such statements in Washington’s address end with suggestions of “Removing weeds from one’s own lawn first.”  At the same time Moscow’s attempts to join a dialogue with its’ American partners are set against the backdrop of incessant, fierce information attacks in their address.

The G20 Summit in Petersburg progresses along similar lines.  The Russian president states that a meeting with Obama is a priority.  However, shortly before this he called all accusations that the Syrians used chemical weapons against rebels “utter foolishness” – and is therefore depriving himself of latitude in negotiations with his American colleagues.

The rhetoric of the Russian president becomes more and more aggressive with each day.  Literally on the eve of the summit Putin spoke with harsh criticism to the address of the American Secretary of State John Kerry.  He stated that Kerry “is lying”, as he speaks of the lack of representatives of the international terrorist network “Al-Qaeda” on Syrian territory (though he has not attempted to specify which information allowed him to catch Kerry in a lie).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation also expressed its criticism of Kerry, noting that the State Department had repeatedly requested conversations with Sergei Lavrov, and then without any explanation declared it impossible to get Lavrov in touch with the Secretary of State of the United States.  Furthermore, the day before, Russian authorities nervously reacted to the launch of missiles over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, having stated that there was a considerable concentration of the US Navy, which is armed with missiles that are capable of reaching Russian territory.

Moscow is drawing itself into a corner, sticking on itself a label of an aggressive¹ and anxious marginal and, per se, refusing the possibility to set out relations with Washington not only through the friendship of the two leaders, but even by means of business cooperation.  Against the backdrop of the escalation of conflict in Syria, which dictates the necessity of immediate intensification of diplomatic dialogue between leaders, this position appears to be especially shortsighted: compromise, if still possible, would prove to be more useful, then Moscow staging displeasure with its partner.  A calmer position from Moscow would hardly create the basis for mutual trust, but the governments would at least be able to move towards the formation of a new common agenda in bilateral relations.

The position of a country in world politics is determined not only by its power and by alliances in which it participates, but also by how it is perceived by its dialogue partners.  Often such relations are based on stereotypes and wrong beliefs that are formed during the years and which are extremely hard to overcome.  The President of the United States, where an unfriendly image of Russia is maintained in the field of politics, refused to accept Vladimir Putin, having returned to Kremlin, as an equal partner, and thereby, of course, provoked the growth of anti-American sentiments in Russia.  But today Russia seems to be mainly responsible for the obvious cooling of Russian-American relations.  In many respects this is also stipulated by the internal politics of the Kremlin – having made a stake on anti-Americanism, Putin automatically crossed off the normalization of relations with the US from his priorities.

Reader comments

a. In the opinion of the author of this article, our government should sit absolutely still, and not have any sort of point of view regarding ongoing progress and for some reason Moscow should fix relations with Washington. What the hell.  Americans never heed any point of view, they only drive at their own line and that’s it, all other countries say yes to them.  Since the very beginning of the war in Syria not a single case brought up by Moscow has been heard.    If we now start going backwards on the world stage, then it is worthless for our politics.  We should start to defend our national interests, like the Americans constantly squeal.

b. “The rhetoric of the Russian president becomes more and more aggressive with each day.  Literally on the eve of the summit Putin spoke with harsh criticism to the address of the American Secretary of State John Kerry.  He stated that Kerry “is lying”, as he speaks of the lack of representatives of the international terrorist network “Al-Qaeda” on Syrian territory (though he has not attempted to specify which information allowed him to catch Kerry in a lie).”

At one of the debates in Congress, a Congressman asked Mr. Kerry (Secretary of State of the USA John Kerry) whether “Al-Qaeda” is there. He says “No”- said Putin.  Putin noted, that the main fighting units in Syria are “Al-Hasra”, a subdivision of Al-Qaeda.  “And they know about this.  He is lying, and he knows he is lying, it is lamentable.”- said Putin

Translator notes

1. напористый – aggressive, pushy

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