The G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, has ended, capping a week of summits that saw several awkward encounters between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Australia, the host of this year’s G20 wanted this meeting to focus on trade and job growth, but it was President Obama’s efforts to isolate Vladimir Putin on the sidelines that got center stage at the summit.
During the meeting in Brisbane, the two leaders saw each each other on a number of occasions. Following the conclusion of the summit, Obama reviewed the encounters.
“I would characterize them as typical of our interactions, which are business-like and blunt. And my communications to him was no different than what I’ve said publicly as well as what I’ve said to him privately over the course of this crisis in Ukraine and that is: Russia has the opportunity to take a different path,” stated Obama.
The tensions between the two men were obvious before both leaders came to Brisbane. At the APEC summit in Beijing last week, the two men often appeared to look in each other’s direction but not at each other.
White House aides later confirmed there had been a series of informal conversations in which Obama confronted Putin on Ukraine and called on Russia to abide by a September cease-fire agreement. Photos of one meeting showed the two men focused on each other, neither of them smiling.
As evidence mounted that Russian equipment and troops were crossing the border into Ukraine, President Putin appeared to be going on a charm offensive at public gatherings in Beijing. On opening night of the APEC summit, the recently divorced Russian leader was caught on camera putting a shawl on the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Her aides promptly removed the shawl and replaced it with one of her own garments.
The scene triggered a slew of critical comments on Chinese social media, with some bloggers calling Putin’s gesture improper and demonstrating poor taste. Similarly as a side note, President Obama was criticized for chewing gum at public events in Beijing.
Things did not get better for President Putin later in the week in Australia, where Obama did not waste the chance to isolate the Russian leader.
The U.S. president called a trilateral meeting with allies Australia and Japan and they issued a statement making clear their opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine, and calling for those responsible for the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 to be brought to justice.
And Obama raised the pressure further by meeting with European leaders and agreeing that sanctions against Russia should remain in place.
Obama was not alone in targeting the Russian leader. Reports said Canadian Prime Stephen Harper, upon meeting Mr. Putin privately said, “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.” Prime Minister Harper’s aides confirmed the exchange happened.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also confronted President Putin. Cameron is quoted as telling Putin relations between Russia and the West have reached a fork in the road on Ukraine.
But President Obama left the door open for Russia’s leader to mend relations with the international community. “If he continues down the path that he is on, violating international law, providing heavy arms to the separatists in Ukraine, violating an agreement that he agreed to just a few weeks ago, the Minsk agreement that would have lowered the temperature and the killing in the disputed areas, and providing us a pathway for a diplomatic resolution then, the isolation that Russia is currently experiencing will continue,” he said.
News reports during the summit said President Putin would cut his visit to the G-20 short, something Putin aides denied.
While other heads of state, including President Obama, stayed in Brisbane hours after the summit’s conclusion, the Russian leader boarded his plane shortly after a leaders’ luncheon and departed Brisbane.
(Photo: Kremlin press service)