Hostile G20 kicks off with mixed agenda

Russian President Vladimir Putin will face hostile Western leaders around the table at the G20 Saturday, having been accused of being a bully and harbouring tsarist ambitions in the ill-tempered build up to the gathering of world statesmen. 

G20 leaders representing the bulk of the world`s economic and diplomatic firepower kick off summit talks Saturday in Brisbane under pressure to arrest climate change, rehabilitate global growth and fight the scourge of Ebola.

But that agenda has been overshadowed by a series of harsh exchanges between Western leaders and Putin in the lead up to the summit, which began when a flotilla of Russian navy vessels was spotted off Australia`s northern coast at the beginning of the week.

The chairman of the two-day summit Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the appearance of the four Russian vessels were "part of a regrettable pattern" of growing Russian military bullishness.

Russia appeared to rise to the accusation when on Friday it warned France of "serious" consequences unless Paris this month delivers a warship whose handover has been delayed by the Ukraine crisis.

Britain`s leader David Cameron in turn threatened Moscow with further sanctions if it does not commit to resolving the long-simmering Ukrainian conflict, while also accusing Moscow of bullying.

Putin, meanwhile, attacked the G20 member nations for imposing sanctions linked to the conflict in the first place -- saying that they violated the principle of the G20 -- in an interview with state media.

Moscow also accused European monitors in Ukraine overseeing an uneasy ceasefire of favouring Kiev, adding that it undermined "trust". 

That will dim hopes that Western leaders can extract any concessions from Putin during the weekend meeting over the Ukraine crisis and the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.The blustery exchanges will likely only complicate what was already a mixed agenda.

Host Abbott has been busy stressing a shared commitment to lift economic growth by up to two trillion dollars in the coming years. 

"We`ve got a very strong mission in Brisbane to work for growth and jobs -- that`s our focus," Abbott said Friday. 

The G20 has pledged to raise the level of its combined economic output by at least two percent above the currently projected level in the next five years, via domestic policy reforms, and so generate millions of new jobs.

The idea in Brisbane is to flesh out that plan -- and also to close corporate loopholes that allow some multinational companies to pay a pittance in tax depending on where they are domiciled after a major dispute erupted over the opacity of Luxembourg`s beneficial tax deals with a slew of companies.

But Abbott, a sceptic about man-made climate change, risks being upstaged on his pro-growth agenda as US President Barack Obama, who landed in Australia early Saturday, primes a headline-grabbing announcement to pump three billion dollars into the UN`s "Green Climate Fund" to help poorer countries deal with the effects of higher temperatures.

In an ironic development not lost on Abbott`s opponents, Brisbane is basking in a heatwave with the mercury forecast to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) when the summit wraps up on Sunday.

Japan is also reportedly planning to join the climate fund, after Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in Beijing a new drive to secure a legally binding successor to the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions.Yet while Obama and Xi stake out some common ground on one front, they risk drifting further apart on another as the US president prepares for a sideline summit in Brisbane Saturday with Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Asia-Pacific security.

US officials deny that such initiatives, in the context of Obama`s "pivot" of US foreign policy towards Asia, are a counter-offensive to China`s dramatic economic and military rise. 

Beijing, however, suspects malign intent from Washington. And on Thursday, it offered $20 billion in loans and floated the possibility of a "friendship treaty" with Southeast Asian nations, in an apparent bid to defuse regional tensions which spiked this year over contested territory at sea.

Further afield, the G20 is under pressure to adopt a hard-hitting financial response to the Ebola epidemic in west Africa as health workers battling horrific working conditions plead for more resources.

Washington is expected to use the Brisbane summit to push the International Monetary Fund to cancel $100 million in debt owed by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said this would free up resources to help fight the worst Ebola outbreak on record, which has killed some 5,000 people.

Lew`s call has been acclaimed by campaigners for debt relief, but several protests are still planned in Brisbane against the G20 and the Abbott government.

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