Last week’s three major summits of world leaders across Asia made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now out on the world stage.
Putin, whose attack on Ukraine over the past nine months has devastated the European nation and rocked the global economy, has refused to attend any of the diplomatic meetings – instead facing serious criticism as international opposition to his war grows.
A meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Bangkok closed on Saturday with a declaration that “strongly” condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which has been expressed in other forums, including a UN resolution. different points of view.
It repeats verbatim the declaration of the Group of 20 (G20) leaders’ summit in Bali earlier this week.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and emphasized that it is causing enormous human suffering and exacerbating vulnerabilities in the global economy,” the document said, adding that there were different “assessments” of the situation within the group.
Aside from discussions on the sidelines of the summits, this week Putin — seen as stepping in to restore Russia to its former glory — has become increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader loitering in Moscow and showing reluctance to even confront key colleagues. world meetings.
Fear of possible political maneuvers against him if he leaves the center, interest in personal security, and a desire to avoid confrontation at summits — especially when Russia is suffering heavy losses on the battlefield — were all possible calculations in Putin’s estimation. , said Alexander Gabuyev, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Foundation.
At the same time, he may be reluctant to reach out to a handful of countries that remain friendly to Russia, such as India and China, whose leaders Putin met at a regional summit in Uzbekistan in September.
“He doesn’t want to be this toxic guy,” Gabuev said.
But even among countries that do not take a hard line against Russia, there are signs of patience with the consequences of its aggression, if not with Russia itself. Worried energy, food security issues and rising global inflation are now squeezing the world’s economies.
Indonesia, which hosts the G20, has not publicly accused Russia of the invasion, but its president, Joko Widodo, told world leaders on Tuesday that “we must stop the war”.
Despite the West’s withdrawal from Russian fuel in recent months, India, a major buyer of Russian energy, also repeated its call at the G20 meeting to “find a way back to the ceasefire.” The summit’s final declaration included the phrase, “Today’s age should not be war,” echoing what Modi said when he met Putin on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan in September.
It is unclear whether China’s position, whose strategic partnership with Russia has been strengthened by the close relationship between leaders Xi Jinping and Putin, has undergone any change. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion, or even call it such. Instead, he criticized Western sanctions, stepped up negotiations with the Kremlin and blamed the US and NATO for the conflict, but that rhetoric has appeared to be somewhat dialed back in recent months in his state-controlled domestic media.
In meetings with Western leaders last week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue and agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to the teachings of his interlocutors, but those words were not included in the Chinese statement. account of negotiations.
But Chinese foreign policy analysts say its desire to maintain strong ties with Russia remains unchanged.
Brian Hart, of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: “While these statements are implicitly critical of Vladimir Putin, I do not think they are intended to distance China from Russia. “Si is telling this to an audience that wants to hear it.”
But Russian isolation has become more acute amid Xi Jinping’s diplomatic tour of Bali and Bangkok this week.
Although US President Joe Biden’s administration has called Beijing, not Moscow, the world order’s “most serious long-term challenge,” Xi has been treated as a valued global partner by Western leaders, many of whom have met with the Chinese leader for talks. increasing communication and cooperation.
Xi spoke with US Vice President Kamala Harris at an event in Bangkok. Harris tweeted after Biden noted the “key message” of his G20 meeting with Xi – the importance of maintaining open lines of communication “to responsibly manage the competition between our countries.”
And in an impassioned appeal for peace at a meeting of business leaders on the sidelines of the APEC summit on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to draw a distinction between Russia’s actions and the confrontation with China.
Referring to the US-China rivalry and the escalation of tensions in the territorial waters of Asia, Macron said: “The distinguishing feature of this war is aggression against international rules. All countries… have stability based on international rules,” he said, calling on Russia to “sit at the table” and “maintain international order” again.
The sentiment was heightened after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland during the G20 summit on Tuesday, killing two people. Threats to Poland’s security as a NATO member could trigger a response from the entire bloc.
The situation was resolved after initial investigations suggested the missile had come from the Ukrainian side after it crashed during a missile defense, but highlighted the potential of the miscalculation to spark a world war.
A day after the incident, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hinted at what he called a “split screen”.
“As the world works to help the most vulnerable, Russia is targeting them; leaders around the world reaffirmed our commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all people. President Putin continues to try to undermine the same principles,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday evening.
Coming into a week of international meetings, the US and its allies are ready to project this message to their international peers. While strong statements have been made, gathering consensus around this vision has not been easy – and differences remain.
The G20 and APEC declarations acknowledge the gap between how members voted at the UN to back the “deplorable” resolution on Russian aggression, and say that while most members “strongly condemned” the war, “there were different views and different assessments of the situation.” sanctions”.
Making such an announcement with caveats was a difficult process at both summits, officials said. According to Indonesia’s Jokowi, G20 leaders discussed the paragraph on Ukraine “until midnight”.
“There was a lot of pressure after the G20 reached consensus on its communique,” Matt Murray, the top US official on APEC, told CNN in an interview after the summit closed, adding that the US had been consistent in lower-level meetings. “Year-round” on the need to address the war in the forum, taking into account the impact on trade and food security.
“Every time we haven’t had consensus in the past, it’s because Russia blocked the message,” he said. Meanwhile, Murray said, the “middle economies” were concerned about the takeover, but were not convinced it should be part of the agenda. and online.
The countries in the groups have different geostrategic and economic relations with Russia, which affects their position. Speaking to CNN ahead of the summit, former Thai Foreign Minister Kanthati Suphamongkhon said another issue that may worry some Asian nations is whether the sanctions against Russia are part of an American effort to weaken Moscow.
“Countries are saying that we don’t want to be just pawns in this game to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhon, a member of the advisory board of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia-Pacific Policy. Instead, his accusations against Russia of “violations of international law and war crimes” hit on aspects of the situation that “everybody here is denying,” he said.
In this regard, Russia’s rejection could also be a message to China, which itself has rejected an international decision rejecting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and has vowed to “reunify” with the self-governing democracy of Taiwan, which has never been controlled. , with force if necessary.
This week’s moves could increase pressure on Putin, but the Russian leader has experience with this dynamic: The Group of Seven (G7) bloc was and remains the Group of Eight until Putin was expelled in 2014 over Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea. It remains to be seen whether international messages are affected.
But without Putin, the leaders stressed this week that suffering would continue and holes in the international system.
This story has been updated with new information.