Putin resists Western offensive as testy G20 closes

Putin resists Western offensive as testy G20 closes
Russian President Vladimir Putin is escorted by security staff as he prepares to board his plane at Brisbane Airport to leave the G20 Leaders' Summit early.

BRISBANE - G20 leaders wrapped up an annual summit Sunday with a vow to reinvigorate the global economy, but geopolitical frictions sparked anew as Russian President Vladimir Putin brushed off Western anger over Ukraine.

Host Tony Abbott insisted that everyone including Putin - who left the Brisbane summit a little early - was on board the campaign to enact reforms that could infuse more than two trillion dollars (S$2.9 trillion) into the global economy.

"I'm happy to be on a unity ticket with Vladimir Putin on that subject," the Australian prime minister told a news conference after the two-day summit, during which the two leaders put aside days of sniping to share a photograph with cuddly koala bears.

Nevertheless, Abbott insisted that he had had "very robust" discussions with Putin on the summit sidelines, and described the July downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine as "one of the most terrible atrocities of recent times".

Putin broke protocol by delivering remarks to the media before the host leader's closing news conference, and then flew out shortly before the summit formally closed.

The Russian strongman said "some of our views do not coincide, but the discussions were complete, constructive and very helpful".

But Western pressure redoubled earlier Sunday with a joint declaration from the United States, Australia and Japan.

The trio's leaders said in Brisbane that they were united in "opposing Russia's purported annexation of Crimea and its actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine, and bringing to justice those responsible for the downing of Flight MH17".

The West says the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, using a missile supplied by Russia. Moscow angrily denies the charges. The plane was carrying 298 people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Channel Ten that Putin had come "under quite some pressure" from a number of G20 leaders because of the downing of MH17 and Russia's behaviour towards Ukraine.

She noted that Australia had been monitoring the presence of four Russian warships off its northern coast in recent days during the G20, which Moscow had deployed "just to remind everyone that Russia has a navy, I assume".

The Group of 20 nations, which includes the United States and China, found agreement in vowing to "extinguish" the Ebola outbreak - albeit without any promise of hard cash - as it works to reboot growth in the world economy after the shock of the 2008 financial crisis.

'Trench warfare'

The summit in Australia issued a declaration that the leaders, who collectively represent 85 per cent of global output, are committed to structural reforms that would lift economic growth by at least 2.1 per cent over the next five years.

That amounts to more than two trillion dollars, although economists are sceptical that many of the G20 members have the stomach for such reforms when growth is already slipping in some key countries, including China and Germany.

Nevertheless, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde welcomed Sunday's pledge while stressing: "Implementation is now critical, with a strong accountability framework to monitor progress, supported by the IMF."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who held lengthy, late-night bilateral talks with Putin in Brisbane Saturday, told reporters that the tensions over Ukraine were hindering efforts to boost economic growth.

"It's clear that these geopolitical tensions, including relations with Russia, are not really conducive to promoting growth," she said. "We are all striving to do everything diplomatically possible to see improvements."

The leaders also backed efforts to squeeze out loopholes between different tax regimes that allow some multinationals to get away with paying only a pittance on their profits.

The issue has resurfaced after allegations that Luxembourg was conniving with such companies to the detriment of their home countries at a time when Jean-Claude Juncker, now the European Commission president, was its prime minister.

The G20 endorsed a "common reporting standard" so that companies cannot arbitrage differences between tax regimes, stressing: "Profits should be taxed where economic activities deriving the profits are performed and where value is created."

The summit declaration also endorsed "strong and effective action" on climate change despite attempts to prevent its mention by Abbott, who doubts the scientific consensus that mankind's actions are heating up the planet.

And the leaders threw their support behind the UN's Green Climate Fund, which is aimed at helping poorer countries deal with the problem. The fund this week won a pledge of US$3.0 billion (S$3.9 billion) from US President Barack Obama and US$1.5 billion from Japan.

One European diplomat likened the G20 negotiations with Abbott to "trench warfare", but the pro-climate lobby was confident of victory after Obama breathed new life into global discussions on greenhouse emissions with a surprise pact with China last week.

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