Russia leaves G20 Bali meeting early, as ‘frenzied criticism’ over Ukraine clouds Indonesia’s multilateralism push
- G7 nations refused to attend the G20 foreign ministers’ meal, group photo, ahead of Friday’s meeting, as Kremlin’s Sergey Lavrov would be there
- Analysts say bickering will not help Indonesia’s efforts to strengthen international cooperation ahead of November’s G20 leaders’ summit
The first incarnation of the Group of 20 (G20) Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Indonesia’s resort island of Bali is being clouded by bickering between major powers over the war in Ukraine, which analysts say may hinder Indonesia’s attempts to push for multilateralism and peace at the forum.
Tension was felt during the reception dinner on Thursday night for 20 of the planet’s largest economies, a meal snubbed by Group of Seven (G7) members because Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was attending.
The Kremlin’s top diplomat was reported on Friday to have left the summit earlier than planned.
Foreign ministers also skipped the traditional group photo on Thursday because it included Lavrov, with Japanese news agency Kyodo reporting that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed the snubbing to his G7 counterparts.
When Lavrov shook hands with the host, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi, at the start of the meeting on Friday morning, shouts of “why don’t you stop the war” could be heard in the background.
Addressing the dinner’s patchy attendance, Retno said she “understood and respected” the G7 members’ moves, adding that the dinner was an informal event, which meant there was no obligation for country delegations to join.
Indonesia, which holds the group’s rotating presidency this year, had two issues on the agenda for Friday’s meeting: strengthening multilateralism and improving food and energy security.
“It is our responsibility to end the war sooner rather than later, and settle our differences at the negotiating table, not at the battlefield,” Retno said in her opening speech on Friday.
Impacts from the war in Ukraine, she continued, were being felt the most by developing and low-income countries.
“Can we solve these global problems [on] our own? The answer is no. Global challenges require global solutions. But honestly we cannot deny that it has become more difficult for the world to sit together.”
‘Frenzied’ criticism of Russia
If the spirit of multilateralism was missing on the global stage, it seemed it also could not be found in the fancy resort in southern Bali that hosted these top diplomats.
A few hours after Retno emphasised the importance of international peace to her counterparts, Russia’s Lavrov spoke to reporters about how his country was being subjected to “frenzied criticism” by Western delegates at the forum.
“During the discussion, Western partners avoided following the mandate of the G20, from dealing with issues of the world economy,” Lavrov said.
The foreign ministers’ meeting “strayed almost immediately, as soon as [the West representative] took the floor, to the frenzied criticism of the Russian Federation in connection with the situation in Ukraine. ‘Aggressors’, ‘invaders’, ‘occupiers’ – we heard a lot of things today”, he said.
US, Canadian, and European delegations also walked out when Russian officials were about to speak at the forum.
In Bali, Lavrov also met Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Blinken, meanwhile, held talks with fellow G7 foreign ministers where the Ukraine war, the global food crisis and Iran’s nuclear programme were all on the agenda.
Radityo Dharmaputra, a PhD researcher in political science at the University of Tartu in Estonia, said squabbling between major powers at G20 meetings “makes perfect sense”, adding that it was an “indicator of how they will act in November if [Russian president] Vladimir Putin does attend [the G20 Summit]”.
“I think this is providing a middle ground for Indonesia. The main agenda will continue, because these countries respect Indonesia as chair, and they also want to contribute to some of the main agendas,” Radityo said.
Indonesia has set global economic recovery, health cooperation, and digital economy transformation as its priority agendas during its G20 presidency.
“What is difficult is if Indonesia continues to push for an additional agenda to promote ‘peace’ due to Jokowi’s visit [to Kyiv and Moscow]. This one is doomed to fail because almost no G7 countries will want to meet Russia,” said Radityo.
The fact that no joint communique will be issued after the meeting concludes (one usually is) underlines the cracks in the group’s unity this year, said Shafiah Muhibat, deputy executive director for research at Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia.
“G7 countries would insist on the inclusion of the Ukraine war in the documents, which would of course be rejected by Russia and at the same time risk the original agenda and issues being sidelined,” she said.
“On the other hand, we cannot produce a document that contains strictly the priority issues that were set at the beginning. It would be out of touch with reality and considered irrelevant.”
While peace and multilateralism may not be achieved through the bloc’s first foreign ministers meeting under Indonesia’s G20 presidency, both analysts argued that the quarrel between major powers is unlikely to hinder Indonesia’s pursuit of its top agendas, although concerns remain as the Kremlin has said Putin will attend November’s summit, either in person or virtually.
“Squabbles do create an environment that is less than ideal. Western leaders have since decided that ceding the floor to Russia would be counterproductive. Hopefully that is really the case for the summit in November,” Shafiah said.
“This has at least reduced the burden for Indonesia as the host to try to secure a successful summit. Nonetheless, there are still concerns that this issue will derail the agenda that Indonesia is trying to push.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Retno claimed the meeting was a success.
“We will continue our consultation [with fellow G20 members]. I have been travelling to many countries in the past few months because I believe in communication, and the result was that all G20 foreign ministers sat together in one room,” she said. “This is an achievement, to sit all the key players in one room to have a discussion.”