The G20 Leaders' Summit will be held in the capital Buenos Aires on November 30 – December 1. The leaders of the twenty most economically developed countries of the world will gather to discuss the most topical issues of the global economy and international security. The summit participants are concerned about the problem of the US-Chinese trade war, as well as the withdrawal of the US president from the Paris Agreement on climate protection. The US, Europe, and China have so far failed to find a compromise on these issues. The most intriguing moment of the summit should be a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Many controversies have appeared in relations between Russia and the United States since last year’s G20 summit.
Ukrainian diplomats are making efforts to ensure that in addition to these contradictions, the participants in the G-20 summit pay attention to the recent provocation of Russia in the Sea of Azov. November 25, the coast guard ships of the Russian Navy acted aggressively against the ships of the Ukrainian Navy, which have been carrying out a scheduled transition from Odesa port to Mariupol port in the Sea of Azov.
Kyiv demanded from Moscow to immediately provide the medical service to the wounded sailors and provide them urgent return to the Ukrainian territory. According to the Naval Forces of Ukraine, six sailors are wounded and two of them were in the critical condition.
Kyiv would like the G20 summit participants to pay attention to the problem of Russia's aggression in eastern Ukraine, its provocations in the Sea of Azov, which violate the freedom of international shipping. Kyiv also urge the United States and the European Union not to hesitate to tighten the pressure on the Russian Federation. According to the vice-speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Iryna Gerashchenko, the international reaction to the fact of Russia's aggression against Ukraine is excessively sluggish and new sanctions are necessary.
Arguments for new sanctions
On the eve of the G20 summit, Ukraine needs fresh arguments to convince the West more drastic measures to force Russia to peace are necessary. This is not Russia’s first provocation at sea. In the perios of May – September 2018, Russian FSB has detained about 100 vessels, which went to Berdyansk and Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov. Last year, the Russian military tried to seize a Ukrainian rescue boat in the Black Sea near Crimea, fired a transport plane of the Naval Forces of Ukraine over a gas field near Odesa and “Pochaiv” diving ship small using arms from the Tavrida oil rig. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has even declared martial law in 10 regions of Ukraine to add some sharpness to the Azov crisis (apart from the domestic political reasons).
Usually martial law is imposed in the case of the direct armed aggression on the territory of a sovereign state. The recent incident in the Sea of Azov was Russia’s local provocation, the purpose of which was to create an excuse not to let merchant ships into Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, cause economic damage to the eastern regions of Ukraine, depriving them of the opportunity to profit from maritime trade. This Russian provocation might seem insignificant in comparison with the severe military actions of 2014, including battles of Debaltseve, Ilovaisk, Izvarino, and seizure of Novoazovsk and Shyrokine.
Nevertheless, our diplomats have achieved some success in New York, where on November 26, an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, dedicated to Azov crisis, was held. Permanent members, including participants of the G20 (US, France, UK), have blocked the proposal of Russia to hold a meeting on the violation of its state borders, which suggests that they continue to consider Crimea as part of Ukraine and do not recognize Russian attempts to appropriate the peninsula. US Permanent Representative to the UN Nikki Haley said that creating obstacles for Ukraine during the passage through the Kerch Strait is a violation of international law and no one is going to put up with it. She stressed that the United States will preserve sanctions against Russia, which concern the Crimea, and further provocations will only aggravate the situation. France, UK, as well as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden) called on Russia to release the captured Ukrainian ships. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin warned UN Secretary-General António Guterres in advance about Ukraine’s right to self-defense in case of aggression.
The officials from individual G20 countries have condemned Russia's actions in the Sea of Azov. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of escalating and violating international law, condemned its aggressive actions, called for the return of seized ships and crew members to Ukraine and for respecting our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
According to UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Russia has shown its contempt for the international legal norms and Ukraine’s sovereignty by provoking Azov crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern about the use of force by Russia and promised to help de-escalate. The French MFA stated that Russia had no reason to use military force in the Sea of Azov. President of the European Council Donald Tusk, who will also participate in the G20 summit, has also expressed support for Ukraine.
High hopes for Trump-Putin talks
Russia's seizure of the Ukrainian boats and tugs in the Sea of Azov might affect the Trump-Putin talks on the margins of the G20 summit; and the consequences would not be in favor of the Kremlin. If we talk about the opinion of the American president, as usual, he has refrained from criticizing Russia, stressing that there is nothing good in what happened. However, we already know about the US position, bearing in mind the rhetoric of Nikki Haley at the UN. Ukraine would benefit from the fact if the Azov crisis fuels the current US-Russian contradictions. No wonder Poroshenko called Pompeo after he decided to impose martial law.
After the July summit of the United States and the Russian Federation in Helsinki, at which Trump demonstrated friendliness towards the Kremlin host, the Republicans tightened their stance towards Russia. In August, the US has imposed sanctions against Russia in accordance with the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 in response to a chemical attack in the British Salisbury in March 2018. American companies were prohibited from obtaining export licenses for high-tech products in the Russian Federation, as they could be used in defense industry complex. Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 in October, it was a response on the use of the RS-24 Yars mobile missile systems, the land-based version of the Kalibr missile system, and Iskander missile systems, which violate the limits.
The Russian authorities have so far prevented observers from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on their territory in order to prove the lack of production of the Novichok nerve agent, used for poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripale in Salisbury. Moscow does not withdraw from the Ukrainian issue. Shelling of Ukrainian positions in Donbas continues, Russian troops and equipment are still deployed in the occupied territories; no one is going to return annexed Crimea to Ukraine. The recent incident in the Sea of Azov confirms that the Kremlin does not care about the diplomatic efforts of America and Europe to resolve the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. They consider the post-Soviet space to be their frontier and will act as they like to, ignoring the norms of international law.
Putin’s conciliatory rhetoric and persuasion on problematic issues are doomed to failure, as the practice of last year’s G20 summit in Hamburg and the Helsinki summit shows. The Democratic Party, which after the recent midterm elections have got the majority, expects Trump to have a more constructive and tough stance towards the Russian Federation, unlike his rhetoric at the Helsinki summit, when the American president claimed that Russia’s actions have not influenced the results of the 2016presidential election. Otherwise, Trump cannot avoid new criticism and accusations that he is allegedly subjected to Kremlin’s influence.
G20 Summit: acid test of new sanctions
Any problematic issue in relations between the United States, Russia, and Ukraine, starting from a chemical attack in Salisbury and ending with the recent incident in the Sea of Azov, creates a good excuse for new anti-Russian sanctions. Following the Trump-Putin negotiations, the US lawmakers would conclude Russia’s weak points, best for the 2019 anti-Russian sanctions. The US Congress has already elaborated certain plan. In August, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez have drafted a bill on new sanctions against Russia, including a ban on the purchase of Russian oil, uranium, the transfer of American technology, and deals in the Russian sovereign debt market.
The US has no consensus on the expediency of introducing a new package of sanctions against the Russian Federation. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Haliburton, which operate in Russia’s oil and gas sector, have their own oil extraction and service facilities there, so oppose the extension of sanctions to the oil sector.
At the same time, the new sanctions are beneficial to American uranium suppliers Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, who have even asked to limit imports of these raw materials from Russia for the sake of maintaining the national industry. Russian uranium provides 40% of the fuel needs of US nuclear power plants. Sanctions against those who cooperate with Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream Russian gas pipelines are beneficial to American natural gas suppliers who are interested in increasing exports to Europe.
With all the ambiguous consequences of the sanctions for American business, so far Russia's behavior leaves the Trump administration no choice but to apply them in the near future. Russia refuses to admit its responsibility for Azov crisis, accuses Ukraine of violating the non-existent borders, claims that the transfer of boats and tugboats from Odesa to Mariupol is supposedly a provocation in order to demand tougher sanctions. After Poroshenko imposed martial law, Putin called Merkel and asked him to influence the Ukrainian authorities to refuse this decision. Apparently, Putin will stand for Russia as a victim of Ukraine’s “provocations” and continue to deny responsibility for violating the missile agreements, for using chemical weapons in Salisbury, and insist that the Kremlin has not interfered in the American elections. In this case, the Americans have no choice but to use the threat of toughening anti-Russian sanctions.