WASHINGTON – Just a few days ago the G 7 Leaders, assembled in Germany for their annual meeting, discussed the conflict in Ukraine and reiterated their stern warnings to Russia. “You should stop your support for the rebels in the East. If you do not, we are going to get really tough on you. We shall impose additional economic sanctions”.
In other words, the 7 most important Western nations, (US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy), wanted to tell Russia, and the world, that they are carefully monitoring the situation in Ukraine, and that they stand ready to act, if Russia’s behavior does not improve.
So, there you have it. A strong, united front against the universally condemned rogue state. A united front that hopefully will inspire other countries to hold this line. It looked good…For about 2 minutes.
Welcoming Putin to Italy
Indeed, just days after returning from the G 7 hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi welcomed Putin, the Super Bad Guy. Yes, he welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin who came to Italy to visit the Expo in Milan. There was a cordial meeting, in which some light jokes were exchanged, we understand.
Some display of a united anti-Russia front.
And just a few days later we see Vladimir Putin in an official picture with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Whatever can be said about Turkey’s complicated politics, until further notice Turkey (while not a G 7 member) is still a major NATO Ally. And we know that NATO high officials have repeatedly expressed serious concerns about Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine, and about the risks that this illegal use of force presents for European security, and potentially for some NATO countries. Does any of this concern Erdogan? Apparently not that much.
Look, we cannot say that we are back to “business as usual” regarding Russia’s relations with the West, and with America in particular.
However, the anti-Putin united front presented at the G 7 meeting is just not credible. It has too many cracks. Italy’s Renzi surely appreciated that hosting Putin just days after he had joined the G 7 chorus condemning Russia would let the whole world see that tough talk is not followed by tough actions. And yet he hosted Putin anyway.
He probably counted on the fact that the Italians could not care less about Russia, Putin and Ukraine, and that America is in no position to issue condemnations.
While the economic sanctions imposed by the West certainly hurt Russia, there is no indication that Putin’s continuing misbehavior regarding Eastern Ukraine will trigger a real crisis. A new Western hard line can work only if there is a truly united front.
Based on what we have just seen, I would not count on Italy or Turkey to be part of it.