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CWA # 144, 8 July 2019

G-20 Summit
For Russia, it was big power projection

  Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

There haven't been any significant takeaways for Russia over its hard-hitting sanctions and newer associations. However, it wouldn't be wrong to say that, for Russia, G20 indeed served as a successful stage to underline its presence in the regional and international front and build its image as a global player within the multi-polar order.

For a country trying to manifest itself as an essential player in the multipower race, G20 comes of at most priority to Russia. Evidently, given its fading ties with the West, Moscow has been utilizing it as an image building exercise for quite some time now. While not much emerged from Western meetings, the Russian President Vladimir Putin grabbed headlines for his interview to the Financial Times. 

The summit has always been about the meetings which happen in the sidelines and not much about the main event. The Russia, India and China (RIC) trilateral meeting took place for a second time in a row at the 2019 G20 held in Osaka. An initiative proposed by the Russian President last year, this edition of the RIC meeting discussed the prospects and need for a multi-polar order and solutions owing to the current regional concerns, threats from increasing protectionism, WTO reforms and terrorism to name a few. 

While RIC shares common apprehensions and remains a potential option for Russia's crusade against the West, the Sino-Indian differences largely prevent the association from diversifying further. Meanwhile, given its rising dependence on China, it is also important to note that Russia has been not so affirmative about the idea behind an alt-Indo-Pacific.

The joint statement from the BRICS informal meeting was on similar grounds. The conference highlighted the importance of countering terrorism, corruption and climate change. When economics and commerce in terms of reforms in IMF, protectionism, support for WTO and concern over trade and geopolitical tensions also found mention in both the RIC and BRICS statements, Putin's address to the BRICS leaders emphasized mostly on commerce and security.  His reiteration of points like rising protectionism, need to reform WTO and IMF from the summits do not come as a surprise. Evidently, at a time when growth has slowed due to factors that include western sanctions, low oil prices due to tensions in the Middle East and absence of reforms, economics has been one of the primary agendas of the Russian President like any other. 

As with Putin's meeting with the US and UK is concerned, there was no significant breakthrough from either. Despite multiple meetings and friendly gestures with all the European representatives at the event alongside the US, Russia could not end up with any relief or concessions over its sanctions following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 in addition to sanctions from the US over the Presidential election charges. On the one hand, Putin's meeting with the UK Prime minister ended being cold. On the other hand, as a responsible stakeholder, Russia projected its best in encouraging development by pushing for a foreign ministers' level talk with the US during Putin's meeting with Trump, in a first after the release of the Mueller report. This was over the extension of the START treaty which would otherwise expire in 2021. Reportedly, Putin is also said to have invited Trump to visit Russia in 2020 over the 75th anniversary of success in the Second World War.

Next, the Russian President also met with the host Japan in a bilateral meeting. While there wasn't any significant consensus over the disputed island, however, Moscow seems to have inked a set of important economic transactions. These include an announcement of easing of the visa regime for Russian businesses and agreements on climate change and digital economy, a few agreements over gas exports and a Japanese investment of 3 billion in Russia's Arctic LNG 2 plant. 

To re-emphasize its inclination to regional concerns and stand out as an essential player, the Putin meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister and the South Korean President discussed the North Korean nuclear issue over which the former's influence has been on a decline ever since China stepped in strongly. 

There haven't been any significant takeaways for Russia over its hard-hitting sanctions and newer associations. However, it wouldn't be wrong to say that, for Russia, G20 indeed served as a successful stage to underline its presence in the regional and international front and build its image as a global player within the multi-polar order. 

Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer is currently a Research Associate at ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at seethadinesh2807@gmail.com. 

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