Popov on the G20: A Geopolitical Stalemate

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September 5, 2016 – 

– By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – edited/translated by J. Arnoldski –

Today, the G20 meeting in Huangzhou, China concluded. Russian President Vladimir Putin spent the day in very intensive meetings and negotiations. Let us briefly examine some of the issues discussed at the bilateral meetings.

The Kuril Islands

This topic is regularly raised in bilateral relations between Moscow and Tokyo. Russian patriots were alarmed by the phrasing of “problem” (it is only such for the Japanese side) at the summit of Pacific countries in Vladivostok which directly preceded the G20 summit. 

Four of the southern Kuril Islands passed over to the USSR as a result of the Second World War. Ever since then, Japan has refused to sign a peace treaty with Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union. Tokyo itself is involved in territorial disputes with China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu) which Japan gained as a result of the first Sino-Japanese War. The aggressor in that war was Japan. It is also well known that Japan gained the rights to the southern part of the Sakhalin Island as a result of the unsuccessful (for Russia) Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Stalin, quickly defeating the occupying forces of militaristic Japan, merely repeated the Japanese precedent from 40 years earlier.

The Russian defense ministry for some reason does not want to use the same arguments against its Japanese counterparts. President Putin himself is very likely well informed of the historical underpinnings of the Kuril Islands “problem.” During the course of talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Vladimir Putin, might have had a deja vu: the leader of Russia, as I first thought, was repeating the course of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950’s. Khrushchev attempted to tear Japan away from the US (whose occupation forces still stand on Japanese territory, such as Okinawa) by means of an exchange: trading two of the Kuril Islands for a peace agreement and exiting the onerous agreement with the US. The Japanese, as Vladimir Putin recalled in Hangzhou, refused such a “gift.” 

Putin has apparently taken up a repetition of Khrushchev’s move in order to revive discussion in the Japanese establishment on economic cooperation with Russia. The future will show how justified this step will be. In the meanwhile, Putin has stated that the issue of a peace treaty with Japan is key and Russia will not be trading any territories.

Ceasefire in Donbass and the “Normandy Three” meeting

Vladimir Putin also held separate talks with the leaders of France and Germany. He stated that a joint meeting was not held due to the domestic political situation in Germany (in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Merkel’s CDU suffered a crucial defeat in elections). Both Merkel and Hollande (whom recent survey data indicates 85% of French do not want to be nominated for president) are the “lame ducks” of European politics. 

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Thus, the resignation from a joint meeting could have been dictated by strategic reasons. In an interview today with a Moscow radio station, I expressed in the same spirit that Berlin and Paris are reluctant to put real pressure on Kiev. After all, Europe’s leaders are not even in the position to fight for the interests of their own manufacturers who are suffering (especially the Germans) from the anti-Russian sanctions. There is no need to say that they are not in the position to deal with Ukraine’s interests, which are foreign to theirs! 

Russia should set aside any overly optimistic confidence in the current leaders of France and Germany and wait for the change in ruling elites, which might happen quite soon, as elections in the Bundestag in Germany and French presidential elections are set for 2017. 

In the meanwhile, Russia has other means in its reserve arsenal for “forcing Ukraine to make peace.” Even if not heavy-duty, these means are more realistic than hoping for the cooperation of European leaders. First and foremost, there are economic sanctions, which Russia has yet to impose against its aggressive and erratic neighbor.

Lifting anti-Russian sanctions

Another separate meeting was held between Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama during which topical issues on the international agenda were discussed, in particular the situations in Syria and Ukraine. 

Apparently, both had problems with negotiating, but Putin’s press secretary, Peskov, called the talks’ results productive. At a press conference in Hangzhou, Obama stated that the US is not going to lift the sanctions against Russia as long as the Minsk Agreements are not fulfilled. 

Given this, it can also be deduced that he did not achieve any concessions from the Russian leader on Syria (such as ceasing the joint Russian-SAA blockade and bombardment of Aleppo). 

The Americans and Europeans are going to continue to use Minsk-2 like a noose to strangle Russia….Yet Russia, with the same success, can blame the US and EU for complicity in overthrowing the legal government in Ukraine and the armed conflict in Donbass. In this dispute, he whose position is the most motivated and who can scream the loudest of all (possessing large political and information resources) will be the victor…. 

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