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“The Ukrainian Issue” at the G20 Summit in China

September 7, 2016
<p>“The Ukrainian Issue” at the G20 Summit in China</p>

Oleksiy Volovych

September 4-5, the 15-million city of Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang Province in China, hosted the 11th Summit of the leaders of the “Big Twenty” (G20). The theme of the Summit was “Towards an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy.” The main objectives of the forum were as follows: to achieve global economic stability and sustainable growth, as well as financial regulation in order to prevent financial crises. On the sidelines were also discussed geopolitical issues: the military-political situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria; the problem of refugees and migrants in Europe; the situation in the Crimea and in the South-East of Ukraine, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

For us, people of Ukraine, the Summit in China is interesting, first of all, because of the participants' perception of the Kremlin's aggressive actions against Ukraine, which in many publications were called the “Ukrainian issue”. We have quoted the phrase “Ukrainian issue”, since it does not reflect the essence of the problem. The “Ukrainian issue” should be understood not as a “civil war” in Ukraine, as Russian politicians and the media are trying to present it, but as the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation and the Kremlin's aggression against our country.

On the eve of the Summit, President P. Poroshenko had discussed on the phone the “joint positions on the Ukrainian issue” with the colleagues in the “Normandy Format” — German Chancellor A. Merkel and French President F. Hollande. Representatives of Ukrainian authorities passed over to the German Chancellor and French President the lists of prisoners in Russia and hostages on the occupied territories, so that during their meeting with Putin at the summit they asked him to assist in the release of those people.

 

V. Putin's Political Maneuvers on the Eve of the G20 Summit

Remembering the shameful for Moscow results of the G20 Summit in Australia in November 2014 and the not very good for it G20 Summit in Turkey in November 2015, the Russian government headed by V. Putin had done a hard preparatory work in order to make a breakthrough at the Summit of “Big Twenty” in China and to help Russia out of the political isolation in which it has been for more than two years.

Since the isolation and sanctions against Russia were introduced in connection with the annexation of the Crimea and the occupation of a part of the Donbas, the Kremlin strategists decided to make every effort to evade responsibility for the aggression against Ukraine by discrediting the Ukrainian leadership.

For the last time, the “Normandy Four” met at the Elysee Palace in Paris October 2, 2015. August 8 in response to P. Poroshenko's propose, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia S. Lavrov “suggested” that the meeting of the leaders of the “Normandy Four”, including the President of Ukraine, could take place on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in the Chinese Hangzhou. But, as further events showed, this was no more than a game, because at the same time the FSB of the RF, on the Kremlin's orders had already in full swing been preparing the provocation with “Ukrainian commandos” in the Crimea.

As you know, to this end, August 10, the Kremlin took a clumsy and brute KGB staging “to prevent Ukrainian diversionary-reconnaissance groups' terrorist attacks in the Crimea”, which allegedly were prepared by the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine. With great fanfare V. Putin hastened to accuse “the Kyiv authorities of turning to the practice of terror”, while calling “senseless” the scheduled meeting of the “Normandy Four” in China. Commenting on these Kremlin's primitive insinuations, President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko said that it is the Russian Federation who resorts to a policy of state terrorism, and pointed out that such Kremlin's provocations would not be able to persuade the West that Ukraine is responsible for the war in the Donbas, unleashed by Russia.

Indeed, August 12, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned this Moscow's provocation. Even the representative of China in the UN Security Council Liu Jieyi said, “We respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its borders, established in 1991, so we do not accept the phrase “a terrorist attack on the Russian territory”. Having suffered a shameful fiasco, V. Putin had to send to honorable retiring the head of his administration, long-term “ally and friend,” S. Ivanov, who, according to some sources, together with the Assistant to the President of Russia V. Surkov had been organizing and controlling the aforementioned FSB's anti-Ukrainian provocation in the Crimea.

In such a way, V. Putin tried to do everything possible to turn the “Normandy Four” into the “Normandy Three” without the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko. According to Assistant to the President of the RF Yu. Ushakov, “after the events in the Crimea, Russia has refused to consider the possibility of a meeting in the “Normandy Format” with the participation of the President of Ukraine”. However, A. Merkel and F. Hollande did not yield to V. Putin's provocations and clearly stated that the “Normandy Format” — is the format of the presidents of four countries, and not of three. Therefore, discussing of the problems of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation has been translated into the format of bilateral meetings.

Just a few months before the start of the G20 Summit in China and the parliamentary elections in Russia, September 18, V. Putin began building up his “geopolitical muscles”. At this, taking into consideration that the relations with the West had not improved, he decided to strengthen his ties with major Asian countries. August 9, in St. Petersburg, he held a “conciliatory” meeting with President of Turkey R. Erdogan, and on August 8, — a meeting in Baku with the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Iran.

In mid-August, the Russian Defence Ministry announced about redeployment of Russian strategic bombers Tu-22M3 to the Iranian Hamadan air base, which aircraft on August 15 made their first combat flights to bomb sites in Syria. The Kremlin propaganda presented it as a result of the resumption of “allied relations” with Iran. Some members of parliament and officials of the Russian Federation in a state of unbridled euphoria indulged in wishful thinking. And it is this propaganda PR campaign that angered the Iranian military circles. And not them alone. Most Iranian political parties rather negatively perceive any country's troops' basing in the Iranian territory. Therefore, a few days after the landing of Russian bombers on the Hamadan air base, an official representative of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs B. Ghasemi announced that Iran had denied Russia of using the base for its aircraft. Iranian Defence Minister H. Dehghan, in his turn, chided Moscow for making public the use of the base, saying, “Russian wants to show that they are a superpower, to ensure their share in Syria's political future, and, of course, in this regard, there was a sort of bragging and ungentlemanly behavior”. After this statement by the Iranian Minister, V. Putin's artificially inflated “geopolitical muscles” have decreased slightly.

On the eve of the G20 Summit in China, Moscow had stepped up contacts with China within the framework of the SCO Summit on June 23-24 in Tashkent, where the action plan for 2016-2020 was adopted, and was also discussed a possibility of India, Pakistan and Iran's joining the Organization. Shortly after the meeting in Tashkent, V. Putin had an official visit to China on June 24-25, 2016, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and China.

Within the framework of the Eastern Economic Forum, on 2-3 September 2016, in Vladivostok, the Russian President met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, with whom he discussed the current state and prospects of development of bilateral relations. The main topic of V. Putin's talks with the Prime Minister of Japan was the participation of Japanese companies in the development of infrastructure of the Far East and the problem of the Kuril Islands. During the talks with the President of South Korea, the parties agreed on returning to Russia as part of a barter exchange the Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers (70 — BMP-3, 33 — BTR-80A and 80 — T-80U), given to it in the 1990s to pay the Soviet debt. Military experts do not exclude the possibility of the above-mentioned equipment being then resold to Cyprus and Yemen, which, I think, will not make Turkey and Saudi Arabia too happy.

Moscow has long and unsuccessfully been trying to position China as its ally, and to drive a wedge between China and the United States, but it is above its capabilities. If we take into consideration the fact that in 2015 the trade turnover between Russia and China (60 billion US dollars) was 10 times less than the trade turnover between the USA and China (600 billion US dollars), it becomes clear that Beijing has no reason to complicate relations with Washington in order to please the Kremlin's geopolitical ambitions. Not everything is going well in the bilateral Russian-Chinese relations either. In 2015, Russia's trade with China decreased by 30 %. Despite its huge, 180 billion cubic meters, volume of natural gas consumed annually, China still does not need Russian gas. That's why Gazprom's persistent offering to supply China with its gas fails. For example, in 2014, Beijing refused to finance the project of the Russian Power of Siberia Gas Pipeline because the gas price did not suit it.

August 22, 2016, the Maran Gas Apollonia tanker arrived in the Chinese port of Yantian with US liquefied natural gas (LNG). It was the first delivery of US liquefied natural gas to China from the USA's Sabine Pass new export terminal. This news caused confusion among the functionaries of Gazprom, refusing to understand how the “Chinese friends” could buy US LNG at 290 US dollars per 1,000 cubic meters, while the Russian LNG from the fields of Sakhalin-2 project was cheaper? Obviously, the whole thing is that almost all Russian LNG has been contracted by other customers, and the American LNG production volumes today far exceed the production volumes of Russian LNG. Besides, the expansion of production of Russian LNG slower due to the US and European sanctions.

Moscow is also irritated by the fact that China without licenses clones and copies Russian military equipment and weapons and without permission sells them to third countries. Such examples of “inadequate friendship” between Russia and China are not rare.

Much to the Kremlin's displeasure, China has friendly and mutually beneficial relations with Ukraine, as evidenced by Beijing's intention to implement large-scale joint projects with our country. For example, the state-owned Antonov Enterprise and the Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC) signed August 30, 2016 an agreement on completion of the second An-225 Mriya — largest in the world transport aircraft and organization of its serial production in China under the license from the Antonov State Enterprise. It is expected that the Chinese company will also finance the serial production of cargo aircraft An-178.

In August 2016, China finished testing and again proposed to build a deep-water port (25 meters deep waters) on the coast of the mainland of Ukraine. Previously, China planned to build a deep-water port in the Crimea, but investors have publicly stated that they would not deal with the puppet regime of the occupied Peninsula. Now the Ukrainian government must decide — whether a port is needed or not. It is expected that the bulk of the investment for the project will be provided by the Chinese side. In my opinion, after the Crimean ports have become Russia's, this proposal, along with a great economic, is of not less great political importance. This is a response to Putin’s “no point in having a Normandy meeting, especially in China”.

 

Negotiations on the “Ukrainian Issue” at the G20 Summit

As it had become clear that a full meeting of the “Normandy Four” would not take place in Hangzhou, one could not expect a breakthrough at the Summit of “Big Twenty” in solving the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Nevertheless, B. Obama, A. Merkel and F. Hollande had bilateral meetings with V. Putin, during which they touched upon issues related to the settlement of the conflict within the framework of both the Minsk Agreements, and of new initiatives. Given that these bilateral talks were held behind the scenes, I think we'll hear about their details not soon if ever at all. However, according to some leaked information, we can get a general idea about the content of the negotiations. One thing is for sure now: the talks of the leaders of Germany and France with V. Putin on the “Ukrainian issue” were principled and tough in defending the national interests of Ukraine, which did not leave the Russian President hopes for easing of sanctions and isolation if he continues his aggressive policy against Ukraine.

Even before the talks with V. Putin at the joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, B. Obama made it clear that “we will continue to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine”. Before the official meeting, B. Obama had a few short talks with V. Putin. Their official meeting lasted more than an hour. On the Russian side in the talks also participated Assistant to the President of the RF Yu. Ushakov, Spokesman D. Peskov and Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov. On the part of the United States the meeting was attended by Secretary of State John Kerry. The main attention in the talks was paid to discussing the situation in Syria and Ukraine. After that, B. Obama and V. Putin talked tete-a-tete. According to the Bloomberg agency, the parties did not reach an understanding either on Syria or on Ukraine.

After the talks with V. Putin, B. Obama admitted that their dialogue was quite constructive, but it did not lead to a mutually acceptable agreement. According to him, “we have yet to see if Putin will be able to implement his desire to find a way out from the low-intensity conflict on the Russian-Ukrainian border”. US Secretary of State J. Kerry also had a few hours conversation with S. Lavrov.

B. Obama made it clear to V. Putin that the sanctions against Russia would remain in force until the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. It should be noted that on 1st September the US Treasury added to the sanctions list the names of 17 other Russian officials and 20 companies, in particular, the contractors building the Kerch Bridge in the Crimea, as well as representatives of the security forces in the temporarily occupied Crimea and the leaders of the pro-Russian militants in the Donbas. September 6, 2016, the sanctions list was expanded by 81 points. Among other business structures, there are now more than 50 companies controlled by Gazprom, as well as 11 companies producing electronics that can be used by the Russian military-industrial complex. All “under-sanctions” companies will undergo trade restrictions, and all requests for a license to trade with these companies will be considered with “a presumption of refusal”. Washington's introduction of additional sanctions against Russia before the G20 Summit suggests that the White House did not hope for any positive developments in the Kremlin's position on the situation in the Donbas.

September 4, German Chancellor A. Merkel's meeting with V. Putin lasted for about 2 hours. According to the official representative of the German government, Steffen Seibert, the leaders of the two “very specific” countries discussed various issues related to further implementation of the Minsk Agreements. S. Seibert, however, has not reported the details of the conversation. The first day of the Summit, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed the hope for a new ceasefire in the conflict in the East of Ukraine with the participation of the OSCE. According to him, the new document being prepared with the assistance of the OSCE would contribute to the restoration of meetings in the “Normandy Format”. Steinmeier assured that the new document would be ready within a few weeks and his project was expected to be discussed in the nearest future at the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the countries of the “Normandy Four”.

September 5, F. Hollande's meeting with V. Putin lasted longer than planned — for 1 hour 20 minutes. French journalists, with reference to diplomats, stated that none of the parties relented, and the disagreements remained. As pointed out by French RFI radio, “it is no secret that relations between Russia and France are characterized by fundamental differences, which still have not led to the establishment of a trusting relationship between Putin and Hollande”. Although both the Presidents talked a lot about the possibility of reaching a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, disagreements remained. While to V. Putin the question of the Crimea is “closed”, to F. Hollande the Crimea remains Ukrainian.

After his meeting with Russian President, F. Hollande said that representatives of the participating countries of the “Normandy Four” had agreed to continue the work to resolve the situation in Ukraine and to hold a meeting at the highest level in a few weeks.

According to F. Hollande, “...in Ukraine, we must continue the Minsk process, overcome the reasons for its being blocked at the moment, including introduction of a special status, strengthening security and confidence between the parties”. However, the Press Secretary of the President of Russia D. Peskov said after the meeting, “Russia has not yet decided on the question of its further participation in the summit of the “Normandy Format”. According to him, “there is still a lot to do before we finally decide”. F. Hollande also said that within the framework of V. Putin's forthcoming official visit to France in October, on the occasion of the opening of the Russian Church of the Holy Trinity on the Quai Branly in Paris, there will be another opportunity to discuss “the situation in Ukraine”. It is not excluded that the meeting of leaders of the “Normandy Four” may take place in Paris within the framework of V. Putin's visit to France.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The results of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou have demonstrated that the general trend of development of relations between the leading countries of the West and Russia is negative for the latter, and V. Putin's attempts to turn them to Moscow's favor at the Summit, failed. The high-level diplomacy and, especially, around the complex international problems has never been open to the public. However, even short statements by the leaders of leading Western countries at the G20 Summit in China show that their position in relation to Ukraine's sovereignty and inviolability of its internationally recognized borders is unchanged. And this was clearly and unambiguously stated once again to the leadership of the Russian Federation, despite its all maneuver to split the common position of the leading countries of the West in relation to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

The general tone and atmosphere of the talks of the leaders of the USA, Germany and France with V. Putin on the sidelines of the Summit G-20 in China suggest that he was unable to turn the “Normandy Four” into a “Normandy Three” as well as he could not escape the responsibility for the created by him situation in the Donbas, and for blocking the Minsk process. V. Putin also failed to soften the position of leaders of leading Western countries on sanctions against Russia. Attempts to strengthen the Kremlin's relations with its Asian partners also did not lead to weakening of the political isolation of Russia, the more especially as relations with some of them (China, Japan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia) cannot be called stable and problem free.

 

In our view, the fact that B. Obama during his talks with V. Putin at the G20 Summit failed to reach an understanding on Syria and Ukraine indicates that the Kremlin's “political long-liver” does not take seriously the “lame duck” B. Obama and is relying on the victory in the US presidential elections of D. Trump — known for his pro-Russian and “pro-Putin” likes.

Equally V. Putin relies on the coming to power of pro-Russian politicians in the presidential elections in France in April and May 2017 and in the parliamentary elections in Germany in autumn 2017. Based on this, we think that V. Putin will try to “hold out” until the change of power in these countries, and thus, at best, he will seek to freeze the situation in the Donbas by sabotage, blocking and ignoring the Minsk process, and at worst — will intensify the armed and political confrontation with Ukraine with the aim to destabilize the situation and change the power in the country in favor of pro-Russian forces, mainly of the former Regions.

* * *

September 5, the head of the working staff for Ukraine of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany Johannes Regenbreht said that if Ukraine provides alternative suggestions and ideas on how to make progress in establishing peace in Donbas, these proposals will be welcomed. In our opinion, the Minsk Agreements may be implemented only under one condition — the resumption, with the assistance of the OSCE International Armed Police Mission, of Ukraine's complete control over the now uncontrolled 400-km section of the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Donbas. Therefore, Ukraine's leaders must do everything possible to make this condition the first point of the Minsk Agreements and the Russian Federation's unconditional obligation. (This was repeatedly mentioned by President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko: “The issue of borders is the key one in the context of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements”). With this idea, Ukraine should immediately appeal to all participants of the “Normandy Format” and to the United States. Besides, as an option, it is highly desirable to expand the “Normandy Format” to up to seven members by representatives of the USA, the UK and Italy, especially so because this format has been used at the recent NATO Summit in Warsaw.

 

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