(Bloomberg) -- The divisions sown by the Israel-Hamas conflict and Russia’s war on Ukraine were on full display this week in two political arenas an ocean apart.

In extraordinary scenes in London, the House of Commons broke down over a vote calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Around the same time, Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro were at loggerheads over the desperate humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and Russia’s aggression toward its neighbor, Ukraine.

While the moments on different continents were different in nature — the one domestic, the other at a multinational forum — each reflects how entrenched positions are paralyzing decision-making. That’s adding to the most charged geopolitical environment in decades, with once-unthinkable comments and unlikely scenarios playing out as almost half the world heads to the polls.

In the space of a few days, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva compared what is happening in the Gaza Strip to the Nazi extermination of Jews. US President Joe Biden called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB.” And Donald Trump compared his legal woes to the death of Russian opposition activist Alexey Navalny.

The G-20 provided an opportunity to get US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the same room at a pivotal moment. With the war about to enter its third year, Russian forces are back on the offensive, $60 billion of US aid for Ukraine is being held up by Republican opposition, and the Biden administration is weighing “major” new sanctions after the death of Navalny. 

Lavrov used the forum to air a long and well-rehearsed diatribe against the “West.” At one point, India’s G-20 representative urged his colleagues to avoid allowing the wars to soak up all of the meeting’s oxygen, according to a person who was in the room.  

Discussion of the wars in Europe and the Middle East still dominated the afternoon’s proceedings. Lavrov defended Russia’s continued presence in Ukraine. UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said it was “clearly unacceptable.”

Back in London, a vote on the Israel-Hamas conflict had lawmakers walk off in protest and others refusing to cast their ballot. As Conservative prime minister, Cameron endured the humiliation of losing a vote in the commons over military intervention in Syria back in 2013. Tony Blair won his vote in 2003 to join the US-led campaign in Iraq, but it was arguably the moment that marked the beginning of his Labour government’s decline and a decision which clouds his reputation to this day.

This wasn’t about committing UK forces. The chaos in what the UK likes to call the mother of parliaments was in part a procedural flub, with the speaker apologizing for his role.  

But at its root was a bitter fight within Keir Starmer’s Labour Party over how to square its strong support among British Muslims with a push to shed accusations of antisemitism. Tipping its hand one way or another would risk upsetting voters and squandering its poll lead with elections looming.

The seeds for today’s dysfunction were planted years ago. Russia was ejected from the G-8 back in 2014 after Putin annexed Crimea. But the US and its fellow G-7 allies were slow to realize that the world didn’t necessarily share their desire to make a pariah out of Moscow. 

The wake-up call came when just half the G-20 members chose to sanction Russia after Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The subsequent expansion of the BRICS grouping from its core of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa was another signal of the growing challenge to the western order. Many nations, especially in Asia and Africa, are unhappy at being caught between the US and China’s superpower rivalry. 

Even in US allies and across America itself, opinion is deeply divided over arming Ukraine and whether and how to rein in Israel.   

The result, as seen in London and Rio, is stasis.


Two years in, there is no foreseeable end to Russia’s war in Ukraine, with some bracing for Putin to expand his aggression to perhaps take on NATO. 

The Israel-Hamas war is rippling out with all kinds of unintended consequences. Yemen-based Houthi militants are attacking cargo ships and disrupting global trade, prompting the US and its allies to send warships to the Red Sea. Groups backed by Iran have entered the regional chaos as they claim to be defending the rights of Palestinians.

In Europe, Russia’s aggression raises existential questions about security and the future role of the US, while governments are faced with raising defense spending at a time when economies are weak and voters hurting.

In its 25-year history, the G-20 operated primarily as a vehicle of economic collaboration. It’s ill-suited to provide answers to the current world’s predicaments.

The United Nations is a busted flush in Israel’s eyes, and the UN Security Council is in any case deadlocked. Brazil is calling for its reform.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira struck a note that most can probably agree upon: “Multilateral institutions are unequipped to handle global tensions,” he said in Rio. 

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