The three major summits of world leaders that took place across Asia over the past week have made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now sidelined on the global stage.
Putin, whose attack on Ukraine over the past nine months has devastated the European country and rocked the global economy, refused to attend any of the diplomatic meetings – and was instead subject to considerable disapproval when international opposition to his war seemed to harden.
A meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Bangkok concluded on Saturday with a statement referencing countries’ positions expressed in other fora, including in a UN resolution declaring “in the strongest terms” the Russian aggression against Ukraine is deplored. different views.
It verbatim echoes a statement from the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in Bali earlier this week.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine, emphasizing that it causes immense human suffering and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in the global economy,” the document said, adding that there were different “assessments” about the situation within the group.
Apart from the talks at the summits, this week has also shown that Putin – who is believed to have launched his invasion in an attempt to restore Russia’s supposed former glory – has become increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader in Moscow on his crouching and unwilling even to meet his counterparts in a big way. global gatherings.
The fear of possible political maneuvers against him if he left the capital, an obsession with personal security, and a desire to avoid confrontations at the summits – especially as Russia suffers heavy casualties on the battlefield – were all likely calculations that played into the assessment of Putin came up. , according to Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Meanwhile, he may not want to draw unwanted attention to the handful of countries that have remained friends with Russia, for example India and China, whose leaders saw Putin at a regional summit in Uzbekistan in September.
“He doesn’t want to be this toxic man,” Gabuev said.
But even among countries that have not taken a hard line on Russia, there are signs of lost patience, if not with Russia itself, then with the knock-on effects of its aggression. Tense energy, food security issues and rising global inflation are now weighing on economies around the world.
Indonesia, which hosted the G20, has not explicitly condemned Russia for the invasion, but its president Joko Widodo told world leaders on Tuesday “we must end the war”.
India, which has been a major consumer of Russian energy even as the West has been avoiding Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call to “find a way to return to the path of a ceasefire” during the G20. The summit’s closing statement includes a sentence that reads, “Today’s era must not be war” — a language that echoes what Modi told Putin in September when they met on the sidelines of the summit in Uzbekistan.
It is less clear whether China, whose strategic partnership with Russia is underpinned by a close relationship between leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has made any change in position. Beijing has long refused to condemn, or even refer to, the invasion. Instead, Western sanctions are denounced and Kremlin’s talking points are bolstered by blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, though this rhetoric has seemed to backfire somewhat on state-controlled domestic media in recent months.
However, at side meetings with Western leaders over the past week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue, and, according to readouts from his interlocutors, agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine – but that comments are not included in China’s record of the talks.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later told Chinese state media that during his bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20, Xi reiterated China’s position that “nuclear weapons cannot be used and that a nuclear war cannot be fought”.
But China’s foreign policy observers say the desire to maintain strong ties with Russia is likely to remain unwavering.
“While these statements are an indirect criticism of Vladimir Putin, I don’t think they are meant to distance China from Russia,” said Brian Hart, a fellow at the China Power Project at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. . “Xi says these things to an audience that wants to hear them.”
However, Russia’s isolation seems even stronger against the backdrop of Xi’s diplomatic tour this week in Bali and Bangkok.
While the Biden administration has called Beijing — not Moscow — the “most serious long-term challenge” to the world order, Xi has been treated as a valuable global partner by Western leaders, many of whom met with the Chinese leader for talks aimed at increasing of communication and cooperation.
Xi met with US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday, who is representing the US at the APEC summit in Bangkok. Harris said in a Tweet afterwards that she noted a “key message” from Biden’s G20 meeting with Xi — the importance of maintaining open lines of communication “to responsibly manage competition between our countries.”
In an impassioned call for peace at 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 US-China competition and increasing confrontation in Asia’s regional waters, Macron said: “What makes this war different is that it is an aggression against international rules. All countries… have stability because of international rules,” before calling on Russia to “come back to the table” and “respect international order.”
The urgency of that sentiment was heightened after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland, killing two people during the G20 summit on Tuesday. As a NATO member, a threat to Polish security could provoke a reaction from the entire bloc.
The situation was defused after an initial investigation suggested the missile accidentally came off the Ukrainian side during a missile defense – but highlighted the potential for a miscalculation to spark a world war.
A day after that situation, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed to what he called a “split screen.”
“What we are seeing is a telling split screen: While the world works to help the most vulnerable people, Russia is targeting them; as leaders around the world reaffirmed our commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all our people. President Putin continues to try to destroy those same principles,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday evening.
In the week of international meetings, the US and its allies were ready to project that message to their international counterparts. And while strong messages have been made, reaching consensus on that view hasn’t been easy — and the differences remain.
The G20 and APEC statements both acknowledge divisions between how members voted in the UN in support of the resolution that “deplored” Russian aggression, saying that while most members “strongly condemned” the war, “there are other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
Even making such a qualifying expression was a painstaking process, according to officials at both summits. Indonesia’s Jokowi said G20 leaders spent until “midnight” discussing the paragraph on Ukraine.
Nations in the groupings have different geostrategic and economic relationships with Russia, which influence their positions. But another concern some Asian countries may have is whether measures to denounce Russia are part of a US effort to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai foreign minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon.
“Countries say we don’t want to be just a pawn in this game to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhon, an advisory board member of the RAND Corporation Center for Asia Pacific Policy (CAPP). Instead, Russia’s censorship around its “violations of international law and war crimes that may have been committed” would address aspects of the situation that “everyone here rejects,” he said.
Rejection of Russia in this sense could also be a signal to China, which itself has violated an international ruling refuting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and has vowed to “reunite” with Taiwan’s self-governing democracy, which never has checked. , if necessary by force.
While this week’s efforts have increased pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience of such dynamics: Before Putin’s ouster over his 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, the Group of Seven (G7) Bloc was the Group van Acht – and it remains to be seen whether the international statements will have an effect.
But without Putin in the fold, leaders emphasized this week, the suffering will continue – and a hole will emerge in the international system.
This story has been updated with new information.