The three major summits of world leaders across Asia in the past week have made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now far from the world stage.
Putin, whose assault on Ukraine over the past nine months has devastated the European country and sent the global economy into turmoil, refused to attend any of the diplomatic gatherings — instead finding himself exposed to much criticism as international opposition to his war seemed to harden.
A meeting of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok ended on Saturday with a declaration that recalled countries’ positions expressed in other forums, including a UN resolution denouncing “in the strongest terms” Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, while noting differing opinions. .
He is literally echoing a statement from the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Bali earlier this week.
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“Most members strongly condemn the war in Ukraine and stress that it is causing enormous human suffering and exacerbating the current fragility in the global economy,” the document said, adding that there were different “assessments” of the situation within the group.
Discussions within the summits aside, the week also showed that Putin – who is believed to have launched his invasion in an attempt to restore Russia’s supposed former glory – is becoming increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader in Moscow and unwilling even to confront his peers in leadership. Global meetings.
Fear of possible political maneuvers against him if he left the capital, obsession with personal security and desire to avoid scenes of confrontation at summits – especially as Russia faces heavy losses on the battlefield – were all possible calculations that went into Putin’s decision. According to Aleksandr Gaboev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
At the same time, he may not want to divert unwanted attention to a handful of countries that have remained friends of Russia, say India and China, whose leaders Putin saw at a regional summit in Uzbekistan in September.
“He doesn’t want to be this toxic guy,” said Gabuev.
But even among countries that have not taken a hard line against Russia, there are signs of losing patience, if not with Russia itself, then with the spillover effects of its aggression. Tense energy, food security issues and spiraling global inflation are now stressing economies around the world.
Indonesia, which hosts the G20, has not explicitly condemned Russia for the invasion, but its President Joko Widodo told world leaders on Tuesday that “we must end the war.”
India, which has been a major buyer of Russian energy even as the West has shunned Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call to “find a way to return to the ceasefire track” at the G20. The closing statement of the summit includes a sentence that reads: “Today’s era shall not be war” — language mirroring what Modi told Putin in September, when they met on the sidelines of the summit in Uzbekistan.
It is not clear whether China, whose strategic partnership with Russia underpins a close relationship between leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has reached any turnaround. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion, or even refer to it as such. Instead, it has decried Western sanctions and doubled down on the Kremlin’s talking points blaming the United States and NATO for the conflict, though such rhetoric has appeared to decline somewhat in state-controlled domestic media in recent months.
However, in meetings on the sidelines of meetings with Western leaders last week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a cease-fire through dialogue and, according to readouts from his interlocutors, agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine — although those statements were not included in the China. account conversations.
But observers of China’s foreign policy say its desire to maintain strong relations with Russia is likely to remain steadfast.
“While these remarks are an indirect criticism of Vladimir Putin, I don’t think they are intended to distance China from Russia,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with the China Energy Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Xi says these things to an audience that wants to hear them.”
However, Russia’s isolation appears more acute against the backdrop of Xi’s diplomatic tour of Bali and Bangkok this week.
Although US President Joe Biden’s administration has called Beijing — not Moscow — the “most serious long-term challenge” to the world order, Xi has been treated as a valued global partner by Western leaders, many of whom have met with the Chinese leader for talks aimed at In increasing communication and cooperation.
Xi held talks with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is representing the US at the APEC summit in Bangkok, at the event on Saturday. Harris said in a tweet after pointing to a “key message” from Biden’s G20 meeting with Xi — the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to “responsibly manage competition between our two countries.”
And in a moving call for peace sent to a meeting of business leaders alongside the APEC summit on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to distinguish between Russia’s actions and tensions with China.
Referring to the competition between the United States and China and the increasing confrontation in the territorial waters of Asia, Macron said: “What makes this war different is that it is an aggression against international rules. All countries … enjoy stability because of international rules,” before calling on Russia to return to the table. Negotiations” and “respect for the international order”.
The urgency of that sentiment was heightened after a Russian-made missile fell in Poland, killing two people on Tuesday, during the G20 summit. As a member of NATO, a threat to Polish security could trigger a response from the entire bloc.
The situation was defused after preliminary investigations indicated that the missile had come from the Ukrainian side in an accident during missile defense – but highlighted the potential for a miscalculation to trigger a world war.
A day after this situation, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to what he called a “split screen”.
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“While leaders around the world have reaffirmed our commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all our people, President Putin continues to try to shred those same principles,” Blinken told reporters Thursday night in Bangkok. .
As we enter the week of international meetings, the United States and its allies have been poised to get this message across to their international counterparts. And while there are strong messages, mustering consensus around this point of view hasn’t been easy — and disagreements remain.
The G20 and APEC statements acknowledge divisions between how members at the United Nations voted to support its resolution “condemning” Russian aggression, and say that while most members “strongly condemned” the war, “there were other opinions and different assessments of the situation and the sanctions.”
Even submitting such an expression with caveats was an arduous process at both summits, according to officials. Indonesia’s Jokowi said the G20 leaders are still up until “midnight” to discuss the paragraph on Ukraine.
“There was a lot of pressure that came after the G-20 reached consensus on their statement,” said Matt Murray, a senior APEC official, in an interview with CNN after the summit concluded, adding that the US has been consistent during the lower-level meetings. . All Year Round about the need to address war in the forum, given its impact on trade and food security.
“Every time we didn’t get a consensus earlier, it was because Russia blocked the statement,” he said. Meanwhile, the “economies in the middle” were concerned about the invasion, but not sure it should be part of the agenda, according to Murray, who said the remarks made this week at APEC were the result of more than 100 hours of talks, in person. and via the internet.
The countries in the groupings have different geo-strategic and economic relations with Russia, which affects their positions. But another concern some Asian countries may have is whether the actions to deflect blame on Russia are part of a US effort to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai foreign minister Kantathi Souphamongkoon, speaking to CNN in the days leading up to the summit.
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“Countries say we don’t want to be just a pawn in this game to be used to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhon, a member of the advisory board for the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia and the Pacific Policy. Instead, framing the blame on Russia for its “violation of international law and war crimes it may have committed” would damage aspects of the situation that “everyone here rejects,” he said.
Russia’s refusal along these lines could also send a message to China, which itself has breached an international ruling refuting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and vowed to “reunify” with the autonomous democracy of Taiwan, which it never controlled. by force if necessary.
While this week’s efforts have increased pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience of such dynamics: Before Putin was ousted for his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, the G7 was the G8 — nor remain. Let’s see if international expressions will have an effect.
But without Putin in the fold, leaders stressed this week, the suffering will continue — and there will be a hole in the international system.
This story has been updated with new information.