Russian chill permeates G20 summit

2014-11-15 08:43
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott greets Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Reading Room at Parliament House during the G-20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane, Australia. (Steve Christo, G20 Australia, AP)

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott greets Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Reading Room at Parliament House during the G-20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane, Australia. (Steve Christo, G20 Australia, AP)

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Brisbane - Russia's Cold War-style standoff with the West sent a chill through G20 talks aimed at heating up the world economy on Saturday, as leaders kicked off a summit in Australia.

Global warming also emerged as a focus for leaders including Barack Obama, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China, posing another distraction for the Australian hosts after they had committed to confining the Brisbane summit to an ambitious growth agenda.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott reminded his fellow G20 leaders that together their countries amount to 85% of the planet's gross domestic product and 65% of its population.

The world is going through anxious times and wants reassurance "that there are people who know what they're doing, that there are people who have a plan, a plan for growth and for jobs", he said at the start of the weekend deliberations.

Abbott also urged the leaders to use first names in addressing each other, "because whatever disagreements we might have, I think it helps if there can at least be personal warmth amongst us".

'Ice Cold War'

Yet Abbott himself came into the summit locked in a war of words with Putin over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine in July.

Australian anger at Putin was underlined by the Saturday edition of Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper. Its front page showed an Australian kangaroo boxing a growling Russian bear, over the headline "Ice Cold War".

While the Ukraine crisis does not figure in the formal G20 deliberations, tackling climate change, Ebola and Islamist terrorism are expected to feature in the leaders' final declaration on Sunday.

In Brisbane, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoed former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev's fears that tensions between Russia and the West had brought the world to the brink of a new Cold War.

"In the heart of Europe, the Ukrainian conflict has raised the fear of Cold War-style divisions that can impact our collective efforts to solve problems... this has global implications in all aspects," he told reporters, urging G20 leaders to debate the issue.

Putin in the hot seat

Putin arrived in Brisbane facing an icy reception after the prime ministers of Britain and Australia accused him of being a bully and harbouring imperialist ambitions in the context of the Ukraine separatist crisis.

Moscow hit back with strong language against the West that included a warning for France against further delay in handing over a warship promised under a 2011 contract, as Putin and French President Francois Hollande prepared to hold bilateral talks on Saturday evening in Brisbane.

Putin is also due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the summit, and started Saturday with a separate meeting of the BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Interviewed by the TASS news agency, the Russian strongman said his government was prepared to deal with a potentially "catastrophic" fall in oil prices.

Their decline to four-year lows is a boon for growth in other G20 countries but threatens to explode Russia's deficit and is already depressing the ruble.

An overhaul of the global energy market could be a surprise outcome of the G20 summit with plans for a new agency to protect against oil and gas supplies being used as foreign policy tools, The Australian newspaper said.

Putin also assailed other G20 countries for imposing sanctions over Ukraine and the Malaysia Airlines plane incident.

But he said he would not raise the topic of sanctions at the G20. "Why should I draw attention to this, ask for something? It's pointless."

Climate change

Obama meanwhile was due to announce a $3bn pledge to a UN fund aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change in the world's poorest countries, after emerging from a pre-G20 trip to China with a pact with Xi on greenhouse gas emissions.

The conservative Abbott, a sceptic on man-made climate change, wants the G20 instead to deliver on its commitment of lifting economic growth by up to two trillion dollars in the next five years through policy reforms.

The idea in Brisbane is to flesh out the growth plan - and also to close corporate loopholes that allow some multinational companies to pay a pittance in tax depending on where they are domiciled, after a major dispute erupted over Luxembourg's beneficial tax deals with a slew of companies.

The prime minister of Luxembourg at the time was Jean-Claude Juncker, who is now the head of the European Union's executive commission.

In Brisbane on Saturday Juncker defended his position over the sweetheart deals, and endorsed a global fight against tax evasion in the works from the G20.

Read more on:    tony abbott  |  vladimir putin  |  russia  |  australia  |  g20 summit

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