G8 Becomes G7 Again
(Source: Reuters1; the Hague)
And then there were seven … again.
Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S. met in the Netherlands on Monday, March 24, while attending the NTI‘s 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague. The G8 (which has now been re-christened the G7, or “Group of Seven”) took advantage of the shared venue, in order to decide where to hold their annual conference now that Sochi — home to the recent Winter Olympics and scheduled location for the 2014 delegation — is no longer a viable option. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no indication that his country’s ousting from the G8 will deter him from his present course of action regarding the internationally condemned annexation of Crimea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was in attendance at the Hague summit, apparently mirrored his president’s sentiment when asked about the Group’s decision to suspend Russia’s membership: “If our Western partners believe the format has exhausted itself, we don’t cling to this format. We don’t believe it will be a big problem if it doesn’t convene.” But the G8 G7 will convene, according to the remaining members, in Brussels this June.
Russia was tentatively admitted into the band of the most wealthy industrialized (democratic) nations in 1998, approximately seven years after the Soviet bloc fell. For fifteen years after that, leaders from the one-time champion of communist ideology dutifully attended the Group’s annual economic summit — a moveable feast of capitalistic celebration — where influential states-persons and financiers from some of the richest countries meet to discuss various matters dealing with commerce and trade, relations with developing nations, energy and even terrorism. Putin himself has been in office for thirteen of those years, serving as President for nine (2000 – 2007 and 2013), and Prime Minister for four (2008 – 2012). In fact, the perpetually shirtless president hosted the delegation that marked Russia’s induction as a “full” member of the Group — the 2006 summit in St. Petersburg.2, 3 (2014 would have marked the tenth annual G7/G8 summit with Putin in office as President of the Russian Federation.)
But after the Russian military perpetrated an unprovoked attack against neighboring Ukraine last month, G8 leaders voted to suspend the country’s membership on March 2. The lopsided military campaign that prompted this decision resulted in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a peninsular region in southeastern Ukraine. Seizing on a moment of weakness wrought by the political upheaval caused by the ejection of corrupt former President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian soldiers moved in to occupy this strategically attractive peninsula in the Black Sea — easily overrunning Ukrainian military installations in largely bloodless skirmishes (i.e., most soldiers gave up without resistance upon being confronted by vastly superior Russian forces).
In repeated attempts to justify this illegal military action to the world community, President Putin has stated that he is acting to protect ethnic Russians living in once-Soviet regions like Crimea, who he claims are being unjustly targeted by “Russophobes and neo-Nazis.” This implausible explanation has been met with incredulity from many Western diplomats, and one prominent U.S. figure — former Secretary of State and possible 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — even compared Putin to Adolf Hitler, recently.
Moreover, during an emotional address to Parliament on Tuesday, March 18, the 5 ft. 7 in. (170 cm.) tall Russian President seemed to betray himself by hinting at a less noble motivation for his recent aggression: resentment due to years of perceived bullying from the West. Throughout the politically super-charged speech, Putin railed against the U.S. and NATO in particular, accusing them of playing a sinister role in events like Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi’s downfall in 2011, as well as the bloody Kosovo War from 1998 – 1999 (among other things). But by far the greatest offense, the eighteen year KGB veteran bemoaned in front of a sympathetic assembly, was the insidious Western plot to reduce his country’s scope of global influence over the past two decades.4
On Wednesday, March 26, U.S. President Barack Obama undoubtedly enraged his Slavic counterpart even more, after he referred to Russia as a “regional power” who picks on her immediate neighbors out of weakness, while giving a speech in Brussels. For Vladimir Putin, a man who vehemently condemned the United States and NATO for masterminding a conspiracy to subvert Russian virility mere days before — from St. George’s Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace no less, arguably the most visible representation of his country’s regality and tsar-era splendor — being so cavalierly dismissed by the leader of the free world has got to chafe. Still, if reports of additional Russian troop deployments in the Ukrainian region of Moldova are any indication, President Obama may soon regret mocking the size of Putin’s “military”.5,6
Other topics of discussion for G7 leaders (at the Hague conference) that concerned the Ukraine crisis included how to reduce Europe’s consumption of Russian oil and gas, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) deliberations on whether to provide financial assistance for Ukraine, as well as the possibility of imposing tougher sanctions on Russia if the nation instigates further military aggression towards her neighbors. But the European Union is heavily dependent on Russian energy, and the bloc’s twenty-eight unique member nations may not all feel as negatively about Putin’s annexation of Crimea as others. Poignantly, it is worth noting that the EU has thus far imposed less severe sanctions on Russia than the U.S. Furthermore, although Moscow enacted retaliatory economic measures against key American and Canadian legislators in the wake of President Obama’s signing of Executive Order (E.O.) 13660, to date no EU officials have been sanctioned by Putin’s lawmakers (at the time of this writing).
While G7 leaders have set themselves upon a course of action that relies on monetary repercussions in order to bring Putin to bear, it would seem that no one in the West has thought to consider that this former lieutenant-colonel in the KGB may not be overly concerned with fiscal penalties. In his address to Parliament on March 18, the Russian President fervently indicated a desire to restore his nation’s prestige in the world, while simultaneously blaming the U.S. and her Western allies for Russia’s poor fortune. (Re: 5) According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin is “out of touch with reality.”7
At the very least, the former counter-intelligence operative/President has demonstrated a very Soviet-esque tendency to turn the historical record on its head to suit his political needs. It will be interesting to see how the expulsion of Russia from the G8 and the enactment of economic sanctions will be interpreted through the filter of Putin’s colored lenses, before ultimately getting passed on to the Russian public through (state-sanctioned) media outlets. After all, truly skilled propagandists have the ability to convince themselves as much as others. Like another Vladimir once said: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
But according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Maria Harf, the Russian stock market is down by twenty percent (or $75 billion) and the ruble is approaching an all-time low. Is Putin really prepared to nurse his vendetta for the West through the re-introduction of breadlines and hyper-inflation? If things get much worse for Russia economically, desperation may drive this presidential Cold War veteran to abandon ‘finger-pointing’ in favor of ‘shoe-banging’, à la Nikita Kruschev.
1. Holland, Steve and Vasovic, Aleksandar. G7 warns Russia of more sanctions if Ukraine crisis escalates [Internet]. The Hague (and Fedosia, Crimea): Reuters; 2014 Mar 24 [cited 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/25/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA2N10620140325?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&dlvrit=992637
2. G7/8 Summits [Internet]. Toronto, Canada: G8 Information Centre; [cited 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/summit/index.htm
3. Official documents – St. Petersburg summit (July 15 – 17, 2006) [Internet]. Toronto, Canada: G8 Information Centre; [cited 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/summit/2006stpetersburg/index.html
4. Myers, Steven L. and Barry, Ellen. Putin reclaims Crimea for Russia and bitterly denounces the west [Internet]. New York, NY: The New York Times; 2014 Mar 18 [cited from 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/world/europe/ukraine.html?_r=0
5. Full text of Putin’s speech on Crimea [Internet]. Prague, Czech Republic: PraguePost; 2014 Mar 19 [cited 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://praguepost.com/eu-news/37854-full-text-of-putin-s-speech-on-crimea
6. Full Transcript: President Obama gives speech addressing Europe, Russia on March 26 [Internet]. Washington, DC: The Washington Post; 2014 Mar 26 [cited 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-president-obama-gives-speech-addressing-europe-russia-on-march-26/2014/03/26/07ae80ae-b503-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html
7. Traynor, Ian and Wintour, Patrick. Ukraine crisis: Vladimir Putin has lost the plot, says German chancellor [Internet]. London, UK: The Guardian; 2014 Mar 3 [cited 2014 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/03/ukraine-vladimir-putin-angela-merkel-russian
4. ‘President Obama sipping a cup of hot tea before delivering a speech in Brussels on Wednesday, March 26’. Source: Pete Souza, Public Domain (i.e., This is a photo taken by an employee of the Federal Government while on duty, and is not subject to copyright under U.S. law: learn more). 2014 Mar 26 [cited 2014 Mar 26].
5. ‘Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia’. Source: Pete Souza (see No. 4 for link), Public Domain (see No. 4 for more info), via Flickr. 2009 Jul 7 [cited 2014 Mar 27].