The good news is that the odds are clearly in favour of the Brisbane G20 Summit going ahead: Sportsbet is offering $1.05 that the Summit will be held and $8.00 that it won't. The bad news is the fact that odds are being offered at all, even if they are long.
The question mark that has arisen over the Brisbane Summit stems from Russia's actions in the Ukraine and the decision by the G7 countries to suspend G8 meetings, which include Russia, until Moscow mends its ways. Or, as the headlines put it, Russia was kicked out of the G8.
This raised questions of whether Russia would also be suspended from the G20. The Australian foreign minister had earlier said she was considering refusing to engage with Russia over the agenda for this year's G20 summit. Following Russia's exclusion from the G8, Foreign Minister Bishop said she would not rule out preventing President Putin from attending the G20 summit.
However, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have had their say on this issue, and it was a slap-down for Julie Bishop.
On 24 March the BRICS foreign ministers issued a joint statement effectively saying that Russia should not be excluded from the Brisbane Summit. The BRICS ministers said they had noted with concern 'the recent media statement on the forthcoming G20 Summit to be held in Brisbane in November 2014. The custodianship of the G20 belongs to all Member States equally and no one Member state can unilaterally determine its nature or character'. When the Russian foreign minister was asked to comment on media reports that Australia may fail to invite Russia to the G20 summit, he referred to the joint statement by BRICS ministers and said 'we altogether not just Australia formed the G20'.
One of Julie Bishop's mistakes was not recognising the significant differences between the G7 and the G20.
The G7 represents a group of like-minded countries, all either members or supporters of the Atlantic Alliance. The strength of the G20 is that it is not only a bigger, but a far more diverse group of countries. It includes the major emerging markets and as such is more representative of the current shape of the global economy. But its diversity is also one of its weaknesses. This was summarised in a tweet from Ian Bremmer when he said 'Russia thrown out of G8 because of lack of shared values. No need in G20, where lack of shared values is a primary operating principle'.
So where is all this heading?
Notwithstanding the long odds from Sportsbet, developments in the Ukraine could cast a major shadow over the Brisbane meeting. Australia will be hoping tensions ease, for if they escalate, President Putin's attendance will become a major issue and Ukraine will dominate the summit. Foreign Minister Bishop has been asked whether she is concerned that some G20 members may not attend if President Putin attends, and as noted by the BRICS statement, there is the real possibility that some countries will boycott the meeting if Putin is excluded. Bishop's response has been 'This is way down the track. The G20 meeting is not until November. There's a lot of water to pass under the bridge'. She will be hoping that that water passes smoothly.
But the forcefulness of the BRICS statement is significant. There has been some questioning of the extent of common interests among the BRICS and whether they will continue to be an influential bloc on the international stage. They have, however, demonstrated that they can throw their weight around. And they may well become more active on other issues in the G20.
For example, it will be interesting to see if their frustrations over Washington's failure to ratify the reforms to IMF governance results in more forceful actions. Earlier this year Russia suggested the G20 should move ahead with IMF reforms without the US. It was never clear what this may involve, but given current tensions and the continuing failure by the US to move on the IMF issue, Russia may rally the BRICS into some form of action, if only to seek to further embarrass the US.
Australia's period as G20 chair could get a lot trickier.