As world leaders gather in Brisbane, Australia, for the G20 Leaders Summit, local dignitaries and international media gather to greet some of the most powerful country leaders, including U.S. President Barrack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But the welcome will be less warm for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Disinvited from the smaller G8 meeting last summer following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and repeated incursions into Eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin still managed to still get invited to the G20 Summit. But he faces a chilly reception, despite Brisbane’s 30C-plus heatwave this weekend.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he’d “shirt front” Mr. Putin when he gets to Brisbane. He blamed Russia for the downing of Malaysian airline flight MH17 over Ukraine, when purported Russian-baked separatist rebels shot down the passenger aircraft. With more than two dozen Australians on board the fatal flight, many Aussie families want the Russian leader to apologize for the incident. Mr. Abbott directly responded to the families, saying he would confront Putin and hold him responsible.
But what does “shirt front” mean?
For an Aussie football fan, it means going head on against an opponent until you tackle him to the ground. For a rugby fan, it means holding an opponent by the shirt and shaking him. Either way, it means Mr. Putin is in for rough handling.
So what does Mr. Putin do to respond? So far, he has sent four Russian warships into the Coral Sea, abutting Australian waters. The navy move was a “climate change response” exercise, said the Russians. But this unusual deployment off the coast of Australia seems an unlikely response to climate change. It’s an uncouth move, even for Mr. Putin.
Taking it even closer to the Western seat of political and economic power, Russia has announced it would also send bomber patrol planes throughout the U.S. seaboard from the Arctic Ocean down to the Gulf of Mexico. Russia also purportedly sent more troops and weapons into Eastern Ukraine in the past few days. To make matters worse, a mouthpiece for the Russian government, Pravda newspaper, which ironically translates into “truth,” headlined: “Russia prepares nuclear surprise for NATO.” With all these Russian offerings, it is easy to see how Mr. Putin continues to make himself persona non grata at international meetings.
Russia may willfully ostracize itself, but in this globally interconnected world, this is an unwise strategy. Blaming the West for all of Russians economic ills, from falling oil prices to economic sanctions, Mr. Putin is ever more popular at home. Mr. Putin will continue to consolidate his media and propaganda empire by eliminating alternative voices, whether through jailing free-thinking journalists or launching expensive English radio channels called “Sputnik” and promoting 24-hour news television channels like the RT. But playing to the domestic audience is a short-term strategy.
The Russian ruble is taking a tumble on international markets. While a bank run on foreign currency in Russia has yet to materialize, the banks are slowly running out of dollars and euros. As Russians queue to take out foreign currency savings or convert their roubles, Mr. Putin should take this as a sign of lost faith in Russia’s ways.
The ruble plummet is thanks to Mr. Putin’s own foreign policy intransigence and scaring away of foreign investment. And this all means that Mr. Putin’s domestic popularity may not continue for long. Without being able to pay off his cronies and throw money at his domestic woes, Mr. Putin will need to realize that being a global team player is better economics.
It would be wise for Mr. Putin to start taking a look at how Russia’s once promising economy has turned into a pariah state on the global stage. Otherwise, the next global meeting host may give Mr. Putin an even colder welcome than Australia’s.