From G8 to NATO: ‘Russia and China may be on the same side’

With Putin opting not to attend the ongoing G8 summit at Camp David and Obama passing on an upcoming APEC summit in Vladivostok, much has been made of the bilateral snub. But Russian expert Martin McCauley told RT critics have missed the plot.

As President Obama greeted leaders of seven other major world economies for a working dinner at the start of the G8 summit Friday night, President Putin was not among them. The Russian president said domestic affairs and cabinet appointments had led him to send Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place.

With  the summit concluding on Saturday, Obama will immediately return to his hometown of Chicago for a NATO summit this Sunday.

Obama likewise announced he would miss the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting this September, since it closely tails the Democratic National Convention; a peak time in his reelection bid.

However, with both leaders set to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit set to be held in Mexico next month, Martin McCauley, Russia expert from the University of London, told RT critics were too quick to dismiss the leaders’ domestic concerns.

He also said one key player was conspicuously absent at both the G8 and NATO summit, making the G20 a much more fitting format for both Moscow and Washington to hammer out their mutual concerns:  China.

RT: Do you think Putin’s refusal to attend would have been a shock to the US?

Martin McCauley: It would have surprised President Obama because the G8 Summit was to originally convene in Chicago and he moved it to Camp David, away from the Windy City, and a NATO meeting just after the G8 summit. Obama thought Camp David would be a more placid place to meet President Vladimir Putin, but President Putin decided to give it a miss this time.


The G20 really doesn’t talk about human rights and democracy, because there are dictatorships, for instance, Saudi Arabia.

RT: Now with Putin giving it a miss this time as you say, do you think the absence of Russia's leader will alter the effectiveness of this meeting?

MM: No, because the key question would be the Greek exit from the euro. It has to be an orderly withdrawal. Anything else would be disaster. So therefore Russia is on the outside of that; the Russian economy is okay. At present the oil price is over $100 a barrel, so therefore Russia feels [it is] in a strong position.

President Putin couldn’t really contribute anything to a solution. He could say, “Right, you have to solve your debt problem, Germany should in fact extend more loans to weak members of the European Union,” and so on. But basically he would be a bystander and most of the discussions will be economic and affect the vital interests of the European Union and also President Obama, because Obama has realized that if there is a euro fallout in Europe, it will affect his chances in America – it will affect the US economy.

So therefore he wants the problem solved, and basically everyone will gang up on Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and tell her that she should relax her austerity plans, that she should take a softer line towards Greece, and a softer line towards paying back bills.

RT: So as you said, a lot of the focus going on at the G8 summit is that of the euro crisis, also with Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and his hope to get in for another four year term. There are some that say that President Putin decided not to go to the G8 because the G20 summit is more important.  What would you read into that?

MM: I think that the G8 summit of course is only…the heavily industrialized nations. But also remember that President Hu Jintao is not there as well. Therefore, the G20 is arguably more important. The G8 basically talks a lot about human rights, democracy, and so on. The G20 really doesn’t talk about human rights and democracy, because there are dictatorships, for instance, Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the G20 format is easier for Russia and they can have more influence there.


The interesting thing is…the Russian press is adopting the Chinese view that the shield is really geared against China – it’s not really about Iran or North Korea – it’s really China.

RT: President Obama now says he won't attend a major summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Russia in September, because it coincides with his party National Convention. Both sides deny there's any tit-for-tat involved, there’s no rift between America-Russia relations. Can we read anything into this here, or is it just nonsense?

MM:  If Obama says he’s going to stay in America, it means he’s very concerned about reelection. One of the arguments about President Putin staying in Russia is that he’s concerned about the security situation – he wants to stay there on the spot if demonstrations get out of hand – he wants to be the man giving orders. That’s one argument. You can apply the same argument to America, that President Obama wants to be in America at a very vital time. September, October, November – there’s only two months before the presidential election. He can’t really afford to be out of the country. If something goes wrong it could reflect badly on his chances and so on. So maybe Obama is saying, “the presidential race to me is more important than a meeting of Asia-Pacific nations.”

RT:Vladimir Putin is not going to the NATO summit in Chicago that’s due to begin on Sunday. Would he have been expected to attend that too? When you’ve talked about for quite some time now, the whole American and European missile defense that’s been a bone of contention, with Moscow repeatedly calling for it to be a joint missile system between America and Russia, Do you think Putin should be attending that NATO summit in Chicago?

MM: Well, technically he could be invited, but I doubt he will go there, because relations at present are, shall we say, not exactly friendly [regarding the] anti-missile shield. The interesting thing is, in the last week, the Russian press is adopting the Chinese view that the shield is really geared against China – it’s not really about Iran or North Korea, it’s really China. So therefore Russia’s bringing into play the fact that Russia and China may be on the same side opposing the shield, and that they have a common defense interest in restricting American power.

The Chinese don’t like the US navy penetrating Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean. The conflict over the islands, the conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, the Americans coming in with Vietnam having some type of understanding with the United States Navy. All of that in fact makes relations between China and Washington rather tense, so therefore Russia can gain from this. They can say to the Chinese, ‘basically we’re on the same side, and we have to restrict America, so if Putin decided to go to Chicago, which I doubt he will, he may actually in fact say some of those things.