Three consecutive summits in the past week have outlined the western resolve to support Ukraine and have also given us a preview of the shape of the emerging geopolitical order, where western democracies are facing off against China.
Working backwards from Wednesday, we have seen a tripartite agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey, which has led to Ankara lifting its veto and NATO readying to formally invite the two Nordic countries into its fold.
This will vastly strengthen NATO’s posture towards Russia. And as if this was not enough, NATO also announced that it would sharply increase its “standby” force level to 300,000 from the current 40,000, and that the US would deploy some 20,000 additional forces in Europe, that include naval and air elements as well.
A tripartite agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey has led to Ankara lifting its veto and NATO readying to formally invite the two Nordic countries into its fold. This will strengthen NATO’s posture towards Russia.
For the G7, the first day of the summit was dominated by the Russia-Ukraine war. The summit ended in an agreement on discussing some new sanctions against Russia.
Earlier, last Thursday and Friday, European Union leaders met in Brussels, where Ukraine got a morale boost by being granted EU candidate status.
The US has played a leadership role in two of the three summits. Its stamp of authority was visible in the continuing tough line adopted by the western alliance against Russia
How Russia's Actions Have Strengthened NATO
Even though Russia retains the upper hand in eastern Ukraine, its overall aim of weakening NATO has backfired; in fact, it has ended up giving the alliance a renewed sense of purpose. The two countries offer great geostrategic advantages to the alliance. Finland shares a 1,400-kilometre border with Russia and has a well-equipped and ready military; Sweden dominates the Baltic Sea and also possesses significant military forces. The two together will add considerable muscle to the organisation.
NATO’s renewed vigour has manifested itself in the Strategic Concept 2022 document adopted at the summit, which has a new emphasis on checking China’s military ambitions. China’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values”, the document has noted. Further, the “strategic partnership” between China and Russia was “mutually reinforcing” their attempts to undermine the “rules-based international order”.
In an interview on the eve of the summit, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary-General, said China was not an adversary but the organisation needed “to take into account the consequences of China’s heavy investments in military capabilities, long-range nuclear weapons and efforts to take control of our critical infrastructure”.
There was immediate pushback from the Chinese spokesman, Zhao Lijian, who said on Tuesday that NATO should stop spreading falsehoods and provocative remarks against China, “and not attempt to mess up Asia and the world after messing up Europe”.
G7's Resolve to Take on Russia & China
From Sunday till Tuesday, the Group of Seven (G7) leading economic powers held their annual summit in Germany. The first day of the summit was dominated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The summit outcome reflected the awareness that their efforts to cut Russia off from the financial markets and the global economy have not quite worked and have, instead, triggered a global food shortage and inflation.
At the meeting, the G7 laid out plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects in developing countries to challenge China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The US is offering $200 billion of private investment and government aid for five years, with which it hopes to mobilise $600 billion from allies. Many details were not known, but among the projects spoken of was a $2 billion solar energy scheme in Angola and a $600 million submarine telecom cable between Singapore and France.
The summit ended in an agreement on discussing some new sanctions against Russia. But clearly, there seems to be wariness about using economic tools to punish Russia. There was no agreement on a price cap on Russian oil purchases or an embargo on gold imports from there. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine addressed the G7 meeting via video on Monday and called for the G7 to supply anti-aircraft systems as well as impose tougher sanctions on Russia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a special guest for this meeting, along with President Ramaphosa of South Africa. Both leaders had participated in the BRICS summit the previous week. Among the other invitees were the leaders of Senegal, Indonesia and Argentina.
If there had been expectations that they could persuade some of these countries to join the sanctions against Russia, they have been belied. Modi made it clear that India would not join any effort against Russia; in New Delhi on Tuesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said it was in India’s interest “to buy oil where it’s cheaper”.
She pointed out, as other Indian officials have, that even European countries continue to purchase oil, natural gas and fertilizer from Russia.
EU Grants Candidate Status to Ukraine
Earlier, last Thursday and Friday, European Union leaders met in Brussels, where Ukraine got a morale boost by being granted EU candidate status. Neighbouring Moldova, which is worried about being singed by the war, also got the tag. Efforts were also made to unblock the Bulgarian veto that has kept some western Balkan countries from joining the EU.
On Friday, EU leaders discussed ideas on combating runaway inflation and ballooning energy prices. But there was little consensus on a path forward. The war and relations with Russia are clearly affecting the energy situation in Europe. While countries like Germany are calling for citizens to cut energy use, Belgium has been pushing for EU price caps and common energy purchases. The Russians have, in recent times, reduced gas flows via their Nordstream I pipeline, claiming that it was an outcome of maintenance issues. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany says that the reasons are political and linked to western sanctions.
US Is Still the Leader
The United States has played a leadership role in two of the three summits. Its stamp of authority was visible in the continuing tough line adopted by the western alliance against Russia. Biden made it clear from day one that his agenda varied sharply from that of his predecessor Donald Trump’s “America First” ideology. His administration went out of its way to embrace multilateralism and restore the US’ global partnerships and alliances. The American leadership in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine underscored its leadership of the western camp.
But many of his allies are concerned that the US may fall back from its current positions. Back home, there is a huge domestic political baggage that comes with a sharply divided society that is rife with mass shootings; the recent decision to end constitutional protections for abortions has roiled the atmosphere further.
Also, the President’s Democratic Party is facing what could be a wipe-out this November in the off-year election where the entire House of Representatives is elected and where it currently enjoys a majority.
But, for the present, what we have clearly is a much stronger western alliance with a more muscular NATO, even as the Russians’ grinding offensive continues to gain ground in Ukraine.
At the G-7 meeting, President Zelenskyy spoke of the need to end the war by winter. But there was nothing in the outcome of the three meetings to suggest a path towards that outcome.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)