No Camping

The decision by the Russian President Vladimir Putin not to attend the G8 summit at Camp David has become the first surprise of his young presidency.

In a phone conversation with the summit host, U.S. President Barack Obama, Putin attributed this decision to the need to finalize cabinet appointments in the new Russian government. Had such an explanation come, say, from François Hollande, it would have sounded reasonable: until last Sunday, Hollande didn’t even know whether or not he would become president of France. In contrast, Putin had at least two months to deal with personnel issues before the G8 meeting.

While the real reason(s) for Putin’s decision are known only to him, some guesses could be made. First, Putin didn’t want his first foreign trip as president to bring him in the United States, the country he often criticizes for meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs; one would rather expect Putin traveling to Astana or Beijing. Second, Putin naturally tries to avoid the intense media attention that his appearance at the summit would have elicited – with inevitable questions from the press about protest actions accompanying the May 7 inauguration. Third, Putin sends a clear message that Russia doesn’t value its G8 membership as much as it did in the past; these days, it favors the G20 format. Fourth, planning for his long-anticipated meeting with Obama, Putin wants to deprive his American counterpart of the home advantage; Putin will feel more comfortable playing on a neutral field in Mexico during the mid-June G20 summit. Finally, Putin makes it obvious that he’s not going to invest much effort into relationship with Obama until the latter is re-elected in November.

At Camp David, Russia will be represented by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, confirming a prediction made by the Forbes magazine that under Putin, Medvedev will play an active role in foreign affairs, including attending high-profile international events. Yet, Medvedev’s very first mission of honor has been already spoiled by the way Putin introduced it. For the past few weeks, Medvedev has been actively working on the formation of the future Cabinet. Now, it appears that it’s Putin not Medvedev who has the final word on the structure and composition of Medvedev’s government. Medvedev’s interlocutors at the summit will have a reason to treat him as a child who was sent to play in the courtyard while daddy is checking his homework. Hopefully, in the future, Putin won’t abuse Medvedev’s willingness to serve as a messenger (remember: “I will pass this information to Vladimir?”). Doing so will leave Russia underrepresented at the world forums, which may eventually hurt its national interests.

Today, Obama responded in kind by refusing to attend the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sep. 1-8. This news is likely to bring some relief to my relatives in Vladivostok who can’t wait until this whole APEC madness is over and they can reclaim their normal lives.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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27 Responses to No Camping

  1. Alex says:

    The sixth reason (or the first one) could be the immediately following meeting in Chicago, where “(the US) President will then welcome NATO allies and partners” that is – everyone but the Russian delegate. And of course, the seventh, could be a desire to avoid brushing off the indecent proposals – as you had suggested elsewhere 🙂 So it is now the Prime Minister who will enjoy the fruits of the concessions Russia made for WTO membership (or, one may say – will bear the brunt )…

    Cheers

    • Eugene says:

      Hey Alex, Japan isn’t NATO member either…🙂

      • Alex says:

        but Japan did not win WWII – they got used to bowing when dealing with US

        • Eugene says:

          Fair point. I definitely commend Russian diplomacy for not bowing when dealing with the US. Yet, I’d expect some effective tools in their arsenal in addition to that.

          • zed244@gmail.com says:

            what Rogozin writes in his Twitter (to me) looks like the only “effective tool”.=policy. Ofcourse, the question is whether he writes fiction or not. (in other words, a big “fist” is the only “tool” the anglo-saxon (democratic| culture is able to comprehend. Examples? Here you are
            http://www.casdn.neu.edu/~history/PRO2/ – “союзники”, ё.. б их мать . ) . Not necessery to actually use the “tool”, but one must be able to show it from time to time (frequently, so they won’t forget)
            Cheers

  2. Dear Eugene,

    There has been a concerted effort by the media and the diplomatic community to try to downplay what has happened but there is no doubt at all that this is a massive and calculated public snub. Bear in mind that the G8 summit was moved from Chicago to Camp David precisely in order to accommodate Russian sensitivities about holding the summit in the same city as the NATO summit that Alex discusses. To rub salt in the wounds it seems that Putin is planning to go to Beijing in early June so he will be meeting with the Chinese leaders before he meets Obama. Moreover it now seems that the first meeting between Obama and Putin will take place at the G20 meeting in Mexico, where the Chinese will of course also be present. If Obama had chosen to attend the APEC meeting in Vladivostok he would of course also have met Putin at a meeting where the Chinese were present.

    I cannot of course know what is going on in Washington or inside Obama’s head but I suspect that the response is a mixture of bafflement and fury. Certainly in Europe the reaction will be one of complete incredulity. Let me assure you that it is completely inconceivable that any European leader would pass up the opportunity to attend a G8 summit and be seen in the company of the US President and other G8 leaders because of an issue of domestic government appointments. You mention Francois Hollande. If the G8 summit were happening the day after his inauguration he would still put off any question of government appointments in order to attend it. I would add that any European leader who was under domestic political pressure or whose legitimacy was being questioned would be even more anxious to attend the summit than one who was not. There is no more full proof way for a leader to establish his or her authority or legitimacy that to be seen appearing in public and treated as an equal partner by the US President and other world leaders.

    The question is why has Putin taken this extraordinary stop? Here a few suggestions, which can only be speculative and some of which are basically the same as yours:

    1. Putin wants to show the US at a time of difficulties in US/Russian relations eg. over Anti Missile Defence, the Magnitsky List, perceived US support for the protest movement etc that neither he nor Russia can be pushed around or taken for granted. The meetings with the Chinese leaders might in that case be intended to show to the US that Russia has alternative friends. I have to say that I think this is the most likely single explanation.

    2. Putin wants to reassure the Chinese leadership that relations with China have for him a higher priority than relations with the US. Putin was careful in his foreign policy decree to refer to relations with China as “an equal, trust based, strategic partnership”, as opposed to relations with India and Vietnam, with which Russia has merely a “strategic partnership” and with other countries such as Australia and New Zealand and the EU with which Russia merely seeks “mutually beneficial relations”. There have recently been a spate of articles in the Chinese press expressing concern about pro western sentiments in Russia, which supposedly call into question Russia’s alignment with China, and Putin’s priority may be to reassure China’s leaders that Russia’s friendship with China remains firm.

    3. A connected point is that Putin may want to show that with the balance of economic power shifting towards the Asia Pacific region the G8 has lost its significance and is being accorded by Russia a lower priority than it had before. This would explain Putin’s decision to attend the APEC and G20 summits but not the G8 summit. Also Putin may be irritated that though Russia is a member of the G8 it is not a member of the core G7, which deals with economic questions, and is not therefore being treated as an equal partner in the G8 summit. This is a longstanding grievance and by boycotting the G8 meeting but attending the G20 meeting (where Russia is a full member) Putin may be underlining it and emphasing that with him as President Russia is no longer prepared to be treated as a junior or second rank partner at any international summits or meetings which he attends.

    4. Putin has a personal grievance against Obama, who made no secret of preferring Medvedev to Putin for Russian President and who very foolishly tried to back Medvedev for President against Putin. I have even heard a story that Biden supposedly told Putin during a visit to Moscow that Putin should not stand for President again. As we know Obama was also belated in congratulating Putin on his election victory. Putin is not without emotion and I don’t think it is impossible that his action was partly driven by petulance. If Putin thinks there is a good chance that Obama won’t be re elected in November then he has even less reason not to indulge himself with a personal snub.

    5. Putin does not want to be questioned on US soil about the protest movement. I think this is the least likely if only because I get the impression that Putin actually relishes responding to this sort of question. Having said that, it may be he does not want to be the one G8 leader who is singled out for this sort of criticism. Bear in mind that with countries like India, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia present at the G20 summit meeting in Mexico Putin will have there the safety of numbers. As I said I think this is the least likely reason unless Putin is planning between now and the G8 summit a much tougher crackdown on the protest movement than anything we have seen up to now. In that case it is conceivable that he does not want to be put in a position where he has to defend it on US soil. However we have seen nothing to suggest such a crackdown up to now.

  3. Dear Eugene,

    I should also say that I also completely agree with you the personal humiliation for Medvedev arising from this decision. Bluntly he is being treated as the office boy sent out on an errand. The personal relationship between Putin and Medvedev is said to be good but I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Putin told Medvedev what he was going to do.

  4. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    Very much appreciate your thoughtful comments. Looks like together, we have covered it all🙂

    Just a couple of short “counter-comments.” I think that in relations with the US and China, Russia always tried to “triangulate.” From this point of view, by not attending the G8 — of which Russia is a member, but China is not — Russia is actually losing part of its leverage vis-a-vis China. For, without being able to put on the table its “special” relations with the US, Russia automatically becomes the subordinate member of the Russia-China “tandem.” That is to say, that If Putin wanted to please the Chinese by not attending the G8, he’d made a mistake.

    I don’t think that your #5 is the least probable outcome of all. As you may know, the protesters in Moscow have by now settled at the Chistye Prudy location. So far, the authorities have all but ignored them. But today, Novaya Gazeta reported that a “political decision” had been made to disperse the protesters by brutal force. Should it happen, anyone — Putin or Medvedev — will have tough time to justify the action to the press.

    We shall see.

    Best,
    Eugene

    • Dear Eugene,

      I agree with you that Russia actually loses traction with China by staying away from the G8 summit. As for your comment about my point 5, that would suggest the sort of tough crackdown I discussed in the point.

    • marknesop says:

      Really? I’d love to see that in an official memorandum – that it had been decided by the Russian leadership to disperse the protesters by “brutal force”. This wouldn’t be the first time Novaya Gazeta tacked on a few creative modifiers: are they sure the statement didn’t say “brutal, bloody, bone-breaking force”? I would be very surprised if the actual document – if such exists and Novaya Gazeta did not simply make it up – does not say something like if the protesters do not leave of their own volition they will be dispersed by the police. And no major city I know of allows outdoor camping in its public parks or common areas, so they’re on solid ground there. I challenge Novaya Gazeta to substantiate its claim.

      • Eugene says:

        Mark,

        All that Novaya has to do is to prove that such a decision has indeed been made. That the protesters will be dispersed by brutal force goes without saying. The last week events in Moscow showed that the Russian police possesses no skills of effective non-violent crowd control. They can either stay on the sidelines (as during yesterday’s Control Stroll) or use brutal force.

        Best,
        Eugene

        • Dear Eugene,

          Let’s give the OMON guys a break. Obviously they are not the sort of people we’d have round for dinner but that they are not that bad. Protests have been gone in Moscow since December without any really serious trouble. Most of the demos have passed off peacefully without a hitch. When there has been trouble as on 5th March 2012 and 6th May 2012 it originated with a very small and unrepresentative group amongst the protesters. Even then the OMON reaction was hardly disproportionate. There’s been no Kent State or Grosvenor House riot or such scandals. As these things go OMON come across as a well trained and well disciplined and rather efficient force. Recent reports even speak of them working alongside the protesters at Chistye Prudy, liaising through Ksenia Sobchak to keep vagrants and Nashi types away.

          This comment is absolutely unconnected to the question of whether the authorities are planning a tougher crackdown or not. There is no sign of one so far and frankly I cannot see what the political logic behind such a crackdown would be given that the protests are hardly a serious challenge to Putin, but then people, even clever people, don’t always act in a clever way

  5. donnyess says:

    Why should Putin come to the US and get tarred and feathered in a lame duck convention, especially after that lovely inauguration gift in Obama’s childhood backyard? No send Medvedev, Obama’s “kicking boy”.

  6. Dear Eugene,

    Just to follow up on the previous point about Hollande, I understand that he intends to attend the G8 summit even though it will take place before he is inaugurated and before he is actually President. In other words both Sarkozy and Hollande will be there.

    Hollande’s behaviour is consistent with that of other European political leaders. As I have said I simply cannot imagine a European leader passing up an opportunity to attend and be seen and photographed at a summit with other world leaders. On the contrary attending such summits is seen here in Europe as a major priority with G8 summits treated as major political and news events. News that Putin has chosen not to go to the summit will be received with incomprehension and incredulity in European capitals even though everyone is careful in public to say nothing.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      Hollande’s inauguration is on May 15, three days before the G8 summit (http://blogs.voanews.com/breaking-news/2012/05/10/sarkozy-government-resigns-ahead-of-hollande-inauguration/).

      As for Putin’s decision: if he wanted to start his presidency with the fault pas, he’s succeeded.

      Best,
      Eugene

      • I stand corrected!

        Regards,
        Alexander

      • marknesop says:

        A faux-pas is in the eye of the beholder, and I doubt there is much Putin could have done to make himself welcome anyway, since world leaders who rushed breathlessly to congratulate Hollande took their time about congratulating Putin on his victory. You could argue they were only expressing foreknowledge of his win, but as you say, when you’re a member of the club…

        Some will say Putin needs to court the western powers and make nice with them or they will withhold their precious foreign investments, but I don’t believe that’s so. For one thing, there aren’t too many safe places to park your money these days; for another, Europe might need Russia’s help to support further bailouts since the European Central Bank is broke, and for yet another, investors will go where they believe they can make fat profits, supposing they must hold hands with the devil himself.

        Western media likes to portray Putin as a thug and a brute who has no manners and no sense of courtly nuance. All those who have the best sense of courtly nuance and most exquisite manners are struggling with debt and bare cupboards, while Putin is sitting on a pile of money. Why should Putin give the chattering press more fodder for their imaginary intrigues when he has no requirement to pretend affections he has no reason to feel?

        • Eugene says:

          Mark,

          Representing Russia at the world’s forums is an intrinsic part of president’s job. Failure of so doing represents the dereliction of duty. IMHO.

          Putin was invited, and whether or not he feels welcome, it’s not our business. Russia deserves better than having a leader who can be spooked by circumstances.

          Best,
          Eugene

  7. Dear Eugene,

    Here is Dmitri Trenin’s take on Putin’s no show at the G8 summit.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/05/11/no_show_putin_G8?page=full

    I find Trenin an interesting and thoughtful commentator but on this issue I don’t buy his analysis at all. Firstly and here I expect you to disagree with me, I don’t buy the view that Russia is governed by “clans” and I never have. However even if that were true and if there really were problems forming a government that still does not explain why Putin would stay away from Camp David. It is not after all as if a coup is being threatened.

    Nor in my opinion is there any question of Putin being “spooked” to stay away. On this point Trenin and I are in full accord. Putin has intentionally and calculatedly made a decision to stay away from Camp David. Whether he was wise or correct to do so is a different matter.

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      I did read Trenin’s piece and, like you, believe that in his conspiracy, he goes too far. Although, as I pointed before, there could be potential problems between Putin and the Russian elite, I think these problems at the moment are far from reaching confrontational level. Meaning that Putin is still in control.

      I don’t like using the terms “clans,” “mafia,” etc. when describing Russia — they are flashy but hardly useful. At the same, I do believe that in Russia — like EVERYWHERE in the world — government is influenced by special interests. The difference is that in “developed” countries, this influence has been polished for centuries to take a complex shape of “civilized” lobbyism, whereas in Russia, this influence is still executed in a rude, open way. But this is too complicated topic for a short comment.

      Best,
      Eugene

    • Alex says:

      @eugene “It is not after all as if a coup is being threatened.” . Do you know if it is not? (just asking🙂 ) With the Government where only one man can enforce action, avoiding the “а Ленини в Польше” situation is a necessity,

      BTW on the question who governs the Governments, here is (somewhat extreme) pov
      http://kubkaramazoff.livejournal.com/

      Cheers

  8. Eugene says:

    Alex,

    Certainly, I can’t KNOW. But I FEEL🙂 that at the moment, the coup is impossible. Yet, the slow pace of government formation — as well as the uncertainty over what to do with Chistye Prudy — indicates that something is going on behind the scene.

    Cheers,
    Eugene

    p.s. Thanks for the link. “Respublika SHKID” used to be one of my favorite books.

    • Alex says:

      I used “coup” as a general noun – a problem, any problem with a potential – be that a coup, another Georgia or just an outdoor version of Dom II (with tents) 🙂 Anyway, the credit for mentioning this reason is yours- I simply refelected (selectively).

      My favourite book long time ago was Neznaika na Lune.

      Cheers

  9. Pingback: Without Putin, the show goes on |

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