The text was originally published in Russia Beyond the Headlines
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited two important international events in November: the APEC summit in China and the G20 summit in Australia. In Beijing everything went well, but during the G20 the Russian leader unexpectedly left a day before the end of the event. Putin's early departure gave the world's media an opportunity to proclaim Russia's growing isolation and a split in the G20.
The Russian president, however, said at the final press conference that journalists had exaggerated about the intensity of emotions during the summit.
"I looked at the local media and at the foreign one," Putin said. "The situation was blown out of proportion a bit. Reality and the media's interpretation of it in the given circumstance were completely different."
On the first day the Russian leader attended all the necessary meetings and negotiations, after which he said that he needed "to return to work," and then left. He missed only the protocol events and some meetings to which he had originally not been invited (though one of these happened to be a discussion on Ukraine).
Despite much media talk before the summit about Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's promise to "shirtfront" (knock down) the Russian president over Moscow's alleged role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July, Putin had positive comments about the summit in Brisbane. He said that the event had provided "a very friendly working atmosphere."
"We discussed constructively not only the issues for which we all gathered, but also very heavy matters, such as the crash of the Malaysian Boeing, objectively, constructively," Putin told RIA Novosti upon returning to Moscow. "I assure you that everything occurred not only within the limits of cordiality, but in a very friendly way."
Time to move forward on Ukraine
In Brisbane Putin had several meetings with Western leaders, in particular with Angela Merkel, the details of which remain unknown. However, the peaceful rhetoric of the two key European leaders, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, indicate that the meeting was productive.
All three said that it is time to return to normal negotiations with Russia on the future of Ukraine and on the restoration of Russian-European relations.
It is important to note that the EU refrained from expanding sanctions against Russia, limiting itself to blacklisting members of the leadership of the unrecognized republics of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
Moreover, soon after the summit German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Moscow and confirmed Berlin's commitment to the peace agreements signed in Minsk in September, which envisage direct contact between Kiev and the Donbass separatists. The Kremlin, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, is also gambling precisely on this format of regulating the crisis.
Meanwhile, Russian analysts are seeing more flexibility in Brussels' position.
"The Europeans will not alter their opinion about Russia being a party to the conflict in Ukraine," says Andrei Sushentsov, managing partner of the Moscow-based Foreign Policy Analytical Agency. "However, their position on the issue of Ukraine's responsibility for events in the Donbass, for the region's humanitarian catastrophe and for the breakdown in negotiations with Moscow is becoming more flexible."
New approaches to global regulation
However, Moscow is still feeling the pressure of the sanctions and is trying to compensate for the deterioration of relations with the West by strengthening ties with Asian countries and its partners in the BRICS group (Brazil, India, China and South Africa). A key topic of discussion by the group in Brisbane was the World Monetary Fund reform proclaimed by the G20 in 2010, which collapsed after US Congress failed to ratify it. Once again the BRICS leaders confirmed that the BRICS Development Bank will be operating by 2016.
According to Dmitry Suslov, a member of the Valdai Club (an annual discussion forum devoted to Russia's role in international affairs), the sanctions implemented against Russia, which the developing countries view as the West's abuse of its powers, only encourage the creation of such alternative structures and institutions.
During the summits in Beijing and Brisbane Putin also spoke of establishing absolutely new ties in the world arena - first of all, concerning global management.
"The current G20 was conceived as a format of collective responsibility for the institution of global economic regulation, the International Monetary Fund," says Kirill Koktysh, a professor of Political Theory at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. "And in this sense it justified itself. Consequently, there emerge two alternative contours to global regulation: the APEC, which is constructed by China, and BRICS. Russia actively participates in both."
Turn towards East will continue
During the Asian summits Vladimir Putin also sounded the possibilities and advantages of turning Russia to the East. A landmark event was the signing in Beijing of a new agreement on large-scale supplies of Russian gas to China.
"At the end of the year the government will present Russia's economic and infrastructural program," says Andrei Sushentsov of the Foreign Policy Analytical Agency. "This program foresees the realization of a series of infrastructural projects aimed at the expansion of the transit of goods along the Trans Siberian Railway and the Baikal-Amur Mainline, as well as the development of port infrastructure. It is therefore clear why in Beijing Vladimir Putin was interested in the development of Asia's economy."
For its part, Russia wants to increase its regional presence and overall weight in the Arab world, and having Egypt share the Russian narrative of regional dynamics is a way forward. There is another strategic calculation for Moscow: While it balances relatively productive relations with Iran, the Palestinians and Israel, the only real Russian ally in the region is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose own position may not be so secure in the long run.
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