G7 leaders pledge action on Russia - do we believe them?

June 28, 2022 5:50 am

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the G7 summit via video-link, calling for more weapons for Ukraine. [Source: BBC]

Boris Johnson’s quip calling on fellow leaders of the world’s seven richest countries – the G7 – plus the European Union, to show some serious muscle has become the stand-out moment of their meeting in a luxury German hotel.

The UK prime minister was clearly mocking Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who is famously fond of bare-back horse riding for the cameras.

But is this a time to joke?

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Canada’s prime minister and the EU Commission Chief whole-heartedly joined in the ha-ha moment.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, is stepping up its deadly onslaught in Ukraine. A world food crisis is spreading as a result of Russia’s blockade on Ukrainian grain, which is desperately needed in Africa and the Middle East. Food and fuel prices are spiralling across Europe too.

European economies and families are increasingly hard-hit.

But Mr Johnson is also right. Now is the time that Western leaders and their allies must make a serious impact if they are to counter Russian aggression and its fair-weather ally China in any meaningful way.

The increasingly anxious and beleaguered voters of these G7 countries and their allies may find the joking around and posing for awkward photographs easier to accept – even welcome – if they result in concrete action.

We’re now mid-way through a week of high-level meetings.

EU leaders gathered in Brussels before the weekend and the G7 summit is in full swing in the Bavarian mountains, while other world leaders are already arriving in Madrid for what’s being billed as the “most crucial” meeting of the Nato defence alliance in years.

The overwhelming focus is Russia, Ukraine, China and the “what next?”

In the past, these annual meetings have been dismissed as talking shops, filled with vague-sounding promises, that too often result in too little. Think of the Build Back Better World initiative, announced at last year’s G7, for example.

Now in Bavaria the G7 has announced a $600bn (£490bn) infrastructure plan, specifically aimed at emerging economies to counter China’s spreading global influence.

Leaders also pledged new sanctions on Moscow to limit its ability to import technologies for its arms industry. This, in addition a possible price cap on Russian oil exports, is designed to hit the Kremlin’s war chest hard. But it’s an initiative that can only work if enough countries, and the world’s biggest economies most of all, are on board.

Ukraine’s President Zelensky certainly aims to put leaders on the spot en masse this week. His message: Deliver more powerful weapons to us faster “if you are true partners, not merely bystanders.”

To be credible, this week’s Nato meeting will require Western powers and allies, (Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand have been invited as observers) to nail down a common position on Russia.

And that’s going to be tough.

Washington is anxious that the West maintains a united front. Arriving in Bavaria, President Biden insisted the G7 countries and Nato must “stay together” in the face of Russia’s invasion.

He knows Vladimir Putin is watching for weakness and keen to exploit it.