Mar 14

Removing Russia from the G8

Russian President Vladimir Putin has always been somewhat unpredictable, seldom taking the course that other world leaders would deem only logical.  His recent decision to intervene in Crimea and ultimately annex the region therefore, considering the nature of moves that Putin has made in the past, should have come as no surprise.  Nevertheless, the brazen act was hard to fathom for many leaders who have come to expect their counterparts, however eccentric, to play within the bounds of certain rules.

Although Putin largely ignored early repercussions, including U.S. sanctions against his inner circle growing in number and severity, the annexation of Crimea is beginning to draw more serious diplomatic responses.  The most notable action, taken by the United States and her most powerful allies, was the ejection of Russia from the G8 (now referred to as the G7).

The G8, a group of industrial powers that met regularly to discuss the future of economic issues, does not technically have authority.  It is a subset of the nations that compromise the G20, the more inclusive group that seeks cooperation between nations on economic policies.  Therefore, exclusion from the G8 does not entirely prevent Russia from influencing the matters that it discusses; nevertheless, it will have a significant impact.

Most immediately, removing Russia from the G8 serves as a diplomatic way of protesting Putin’s recent actions.  Although it will not have immediate effects on the Russian economy, ejection from the G8 has importance in its symbolic meaning.  It illustrates that the remaining G7 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) condemn the military-aided annexation of Crimea and will not support such a violation of the expectations for international conduct.  Furthermore, it distances Putin from other leaders and suggests (as his actions already have) that he should not be a representative in a group focused on cooperation between countries.

The decision to remove Russia from future meetings also reinforces the recent approach that the Obama administration has been taking to many international issues, emphasizing long-term, diplomatic consequences over threats of immediate action or military intervention.  While the Russian government has downplayed exclusion by the G7, it has undoubtedly lost valuable opportunities to voice its stance on economic issues at a time when the ruble is already suffering.  Losing influence in economic matters will only further complicate the challenges that Russia is currently facing.

The G7 has left Russia’s reentry into the group on the table, although only by stopping short of explicitly denying that possibility.  In reality, Russia will likely remain alienated from many Western powers for the foreseeable future.  Trust has broken down on both sides of the relationship.  The United States and her allies have grown weary of Russia’s unpredictable actions and disregard for diplomacy, while Putin continues to reference past injustices that he feels the West has committed against Russia.

The Russian stance on relations with the West could lead to a significant drawback when it comes to the G7 suspending Russia.  Putin, a former KGB officer, is largely a product of the Cold War; he feels that his country was slighted by the West and, unfortunately, many Russians agree.  The G7 did not become the G8 (by including Russia) until as recently as 1998; although the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union had become the Russian Federation, it was excluded from G7 negotiations for a number of years.  This is one of many Western actions that Russians have viewed as an insult, and the re-formation of the G7 reminds many of their anger over such issues.

In this way, Russia’s exclusion could stir feelings of nationalism and bitterness toward the West, helping to justify the the annexation of Crimea (which was separated from Russia when the Soviet Union was dissolved).  Nevertheless, American focus must remain on the long term.  Despite its possible downside, the diplomatic action taken against Russia remains highly preferable to a military response; it will simply require more time to be effective.  Eventually, Russia will recognize its need (particularly economically) to work with other nations.  The resentment that has recently boiled over will be overcome by necessity and present the opportunity for new, diplomatic relations to be formed.  Ultimately, the time required for exclusion from the G8 and other sanctions to take effect will be worthwhile, resulting in stronger and more stable relations with Russia in the future.


Acosta, Jim, and Victoria Eastwood. “U.S., Other Powers Kick Russia out of G8.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/24/politics/obama-europe-trip/>.

Jan 14

Syria: Choosing a Side

The Syrian Revolution has been making headlines since 2011, growing increasingly complex and unstable as the Assad regime and its Hezbollah allies wage war against a variety of rebel groups, including some linked to terrorist organizations.  Wary of being drawn into another conflict in the Middle East, the U.S. administration has offered selective support to rebels free from the influence of extremists while working toward a diplomatic solution with the Assad government.  However, with international peace talks finally under way, this policy of technical neutrality has changed.

Congress recently made American aid to Syrian rebels official.  Although this means relatively little on the ground considering that the United States has been providing the rebels some form of aid, beginning with monetary support and growing to shipments of small arms, for many months now.  However, it is a decision with significant diplomatic meaning, one that has already upset Assad and his compatriots.

Much as Congress had not technically acknowledged U.S. aid to Syrian freedom fighters before this week, the Assad regime has avoided recognizing its opponents as rebels.  Although Syria is clearly in the midst of a revolution, its leaders maintain that their opponents are terrorists, fighting against the will of the nation rather than for it.  The recognition of and commitment to continued assistance for the rebels is, therefore, about much more than providing weapons.  Congress has, in essence, recognized the legitimacy of the rebels.

Although Russia has been openly supporting the Assad regime, providing money, weapons, and political assistance, the Syrian government views this as an entirely different arrangement.  From their perspective, it is an allegiance between two governments like any other.  By aligning the United States with Syrian rebels, Congress took official action that symbolically elevates the rebellion, showing that it carries the same status as an official government.  This broadens the divide between the United States, which is working to establish a transitional government that would bring an end to Assad’s rule, and the Syrian leadership that refuses to acknowledge that it is truly at war.

Despite the potential for diplomatic backlash, this is a step that the United States needed to take and timed extremely well.  First and foremost, it makes the American position on Syria inescapably clear.  As delegates for the Syrian government attending the current peace talks remain unwilling to budge, the U.S. has responded by digging into its position as well.  Congress has demonstrated that the establishment of a transitional government (which is supposed to be the entire purpose of the talks) is not up for debate.

The act could potentially lead Syria to reconsider its current position on aid as well.  Assad is fighting a war of attrition against his own people; unable to escape from blockaded cities, many innocent civilians are now suffering from malnutrition and related ailments.  Nevertheless, Assad’s representatives have repeatedly denied the United Nations’ request that humanitarian aid be allowed to reach the suffering.  The American decision is a way around the government’s obstinance; if it will deny its people basic necessities, the U.S. will provide that and then some.

Hopefully, the Syrian government will attempt to bargain, finally allowing humanitarian aid missions in exchange for a limit on military assistance to the opposition.  But even if they reject the chance to act diplomatically, aid will still be delivered to the rebels.  The U.S. stance falls short of backing Syrian leaders into a corner, but it will get the job done either politically or practically.

Furthermore, political backlash may not be the worst outcome.  Assad’s delegates have refused to compromise or even discuss the most pressing issues on the table at the peace conference.  Their counterparts representing the revolutionaries, however, have demonstrated much more professional and diplomatic behavior.  It is an ironic and slightly unexpected situation, but it has lent credibility to the rebellion.  Should the representatives from the Syrian government become outraged or begin making accusations, shifting the talks further from the topic of a transitional government, it will only further hurt their case.

The situation in Syria and the conference currently in session are highly intricate in terms of politics, with a large number of stakeholders contributing to their progress.  It is impossible to accurately speculate about the impact of any decision, but from almost any angle it is largely certain that official recognition of U.S. aid to the rebellion will only serve to strengthen the American position.

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