Syrian Crisis Dominates the G20 Summit in Russia, Where World Leaders Remained DividedSeptember 6, 2013 in Russia, Syria, United States
World leaders meeting at the G20 Summit in Russia remained divided over military action in Syria. The Syrian crisis, and prospect of military action, has overshadowed the official agenda of the summit, which was intended to focus on the world’s top economies and emerging markets in order to stimulate growth and battle tax avoidance. While talks on Syria dominated the first day of the summit, it was not immediately clear if the leaders would have another chance to discuss the issue on the summit’s second day or if the main session would focus on purely economic issues. What does remain clear is that tensions between the United States and Russia have reached a new low.
Despite not being on the original agenda of the summit, which is hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, global leaders discussed the Syria crisis over a working dinner on Thursday, which lasted into the early morning hours. However there was no breakthrough during the dinner as leaders, including US President Barack Obama, presented their positions on the Syria crisis. The discussions, which failed to bridge the divisions over US plans which are seeking military action against the Syrian regime, also confirmed the extent of global divisions on the issue. A Kremlin spokesman was quoted as saying that “some states were defending the view the rushed measures should be taken, overlooking legitimate international institutions. Other states appealed not to devalue international law and not to forget that only the UN Security Council has the right to decide on using force.” While a high-ranking source close to the talks indicated that there was a disappointing lack of ambition at the dinner on the Syria issue, noting that Putin as host was keen not to aggravate tensions further, a French diplomatic source highlighted that while discussions indicated a sharp divide amongst the leaders, the overall objective of the dinner “was an exchange between the top world leaders and not to come to an agreement.” Outside of the summit, several Western states share Mr. Putin’s opposition to military action, and after last week’s vote in the British parliament, which resulted in the UK government voting against strikes, France is the only power to have vowed that it will join American intervention if US officials go ahead with military action.
Mr. Putin has emerged as one of the most inflexible critics of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has been accused of allegedly using chemical weapons in an attack that was carried out on 21 August. Putin’s comments that any move without the UN’s blessing would be an aggression, remained unchanged throughout the Summit. China also insists that any action without the UN would be illegal.
Meanwhile on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that military strikes could spark further sectarian violence in the country which he said is suffering from a humanitarian crisis “unprecedented” in recent history, adding that “I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence.” The UN is also appealing for more aid for the estimated two million Syrians who have fled their country, in which another 4.25 million are internally displaced. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Friday that the UK would provide an additional £52 million (US $80 million) in aid for Syrian, in which much of it will go towards medical training and equipment in order to help those civilians who have been targeted by chemical attacks.