G20 leaders bask in warm Aussie spring, but reception for Russia’s Putin is chilly

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at the G20 international airport on November 14, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. World leaders have gathered in Brisbane for the annual G20 Summit and are expected to discuss economic growth, free trade and climate change as well as pressing issues including the situation in Ukraine and the Ebola crisis. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

BRISBANE, Australia (CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in the northern Australian city of Brisbane to a scorching spring day, and a distinctly chilly reception.

Putin, in Australia with other world leaders for G20 talks, stepped off his flight from Moscow to be greeted by Australia’s deputy defense secretary, a junior minister in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet. Standing nearby was a much bigger political personage, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis.

Brandis made no attempt to greet the Russian leader. Not long after, though, Brandis was filmed enthusiastically welcoming Germany’s Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

If Putin had seen the local Courier Mail newspaper in the short limousine trip to his hotel he would have noticed a giant front page graphic of a Russian bear complete with fur cap, matching up to a boxing kangaroo, above the headline “Ice Cold War.”

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Inside, splashed across two pages, was quote after quote from Abbott, revealing details of his 20-minute conversation with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Beijing last week.

Abbott said he told Putin that he should stop trying to “recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the Soviet Union,” and he accused Russia of stepping up its aggression, which was part of a “regrettable pattern.”

Putin is clearly an isolated figure by Western leaders in particular at the two-day G20, after reports that Russian troops and heavy weapons are being sent across the Russian border to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned Russia on Friday to change its course regarding Ukraine.

Otherwise, he said, “The relationship that Britain has with Russia, that the European Union has with Russia, the relationship that I hope Australia has with Russia, will be very different.”

And Australia continues to show its anger towards Russia over the downing of MH17, which claimed the lives of 28 Australian citizens when the plane went down over Ukraine. Add to that a flotilla of four Russian naval vessels off the coast of Australia, and tensions in Brisbane are running pretty high.

Putin for his part remains unrepentant, and apparently unruffled. He told the Russian news agency in an interview on the eve of the Saturday and Sunday G20 that sanctions against Russia are against the principle of the World Trade Organization and undermine “the whole system of international economic relations.”

That is unlikely to cut much ice here. Ukraine is not officially on the agenda but it looms large over this gathering. The summit brings together the leaders of the United States, Britain, Germany and France — countries that have been leading the sanctions against Russia.

The G20 is a grouping whose job is actually to focus on financial and economic matters. Indeed, the stated aims of host Australia is to launch a new road map to boost global economic growth by two percentage points above the existing targets by 2018, mainly through infrastructure spending, streamlined financial services, and a crackdown on tax laws.

But that’s playing second fiddle to a real-time diplomatic drama unfolding in Brisbane. The heat is on, and it’s not just the unseasonably warm weather.

 

 

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