G-20 Diplomats Fail on Unity Over Ukraine, War’s Impact

Deeply divided top diplomats from the world’s richest and largest developing nations failed to find common ground Friday over Russia’s war in Ukraine and how to deal with its global impacts, leaving prospects for future cooperation in the forum uncertain.

Talks that had been in balance were disrupted by unexpected and unrelated political developments. The shocking assassination, far away from Bali, Indonesian resort, of an ex-Japan prime minister was one of the two surprising events. Group of twenty foreign ministers heard from an Indonesian host an emotional appeal for unity and an end of the war.

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In spite of deepening East West divisions, triggered by China and Russia as well as the United States and Europe respectively, there was no consensus. The group photos were not taken and the final communiqué was not issued, as in past years. Acrimony seemed to be rife, particularly between Western and Russian participants.

Although they had been in the same room for the first time since Ukraine’s war, U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken was present with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister.

Lavrov was seen leaving the proceedings two times: one when Annalena Bock, his German counterpart, addressed the first session. Another time just before Dmytro Kuleba (the Ukrainian foreign minister) spoke via video during the second session.

Hours after Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced his resignation, Abe’s meeting began. Liz Truss, his foreign secretary, left Bali to take his place. The meeting had just begun when Shinzo Abe, ex-Prime Minister of Japan, was killed. Later, Abe died from his injuries.

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Both Johnson and Abe are well known to the G-20 family, having participated in numerous similar conferences and leaders’ summits in the past. One goal of Friday’s meeting was to lay the groundwork for the upcoming G-20 summit that Indonesia will host in November.

Many, if not all, of the participants expressed shock at Abe’s shooting that occurred as they were holding the first of two plenary sessions on the importance of restoring confidence in multilateralism and upholding the global rules-based order.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had urged the group — which included Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Blinken, and several European counterparts — to overcome mistrust for the sake of a planet confronting multiple challenges from the coronavirus to climate change as well as Ukraine.

“The world has yet to recover from the pandemic but we are already confronted with another crisis: the war in Ukraine,” Marsudi said. “The ripple effects are being felt globally on food, on energy and physical space.”

Her observation that Ukraine’s war has caused fuel shortages and food insecurity for poorer and less developed countries, prompted her to say that the G-20 must take action to resolve the problem and keep the global rules-based order relevant.

She said that the Ukraine war had shaken this order as Lavrov seemed to be shuffle paper without expression between Mexico’s and Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministers.

“Honestly, we cannot deny that it has become more difficult for the world to sit together,” Marsudi said. She added plaintively: “The world is watching us, so we cannot fail.”

According to her, the Ukraine war was covered at nearly all bilateral meetings that took place during the one day gathering.

Marsudi couldn’t point out any agreement reached after the meeting, but she stated that there was widespread concern over the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on food and energy. She added that only “some countries expressed condemnation of the act of invasion.”

Even though they sat at the same table for a conference, Lavrov and Blinken did not speak to one another.

“You know, it was not us who abandoned all contacts,” Lavrov told reporters after the first session. “It was the United States. That’s all I can say. We aren’t going after anyone suggesting meeting. If they don’t want to talk, it’s their choice.”

Asked why there had been no group photo, Lavrov snapped: “I didn’t invite anyone to pose for a photo together with me.”

“It’s obvious that they used the G-20 for goals that weren’t envisaged when it was created,” he said.

According to an international diplomat, Blinken immediately attacked the Russian delegation. He accused Moscow of blocking the passage of millions of tonnes of grain from Ukrainian ports, causing food insecurity throughout the globe.

Lavrov was not there for Blinken’s comments and his stand-in began Russia’s intervention by telling the group she did not have prepared remarks, according to the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door meeting.

U.S. officials had said they were determined not to allow distractions to divert attention from what they believe should be the primary focuses of the Bali conference: the disruption to world food and energy supplies caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, blaming Moscow for it, and marshalling a response to halt shortages that are already wreaking havoc in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

U.S. officials hinted that no such group communique would exist as in the past years, when group members had issued joint statements on important issues, including terrorism and transnational crime. This was a departure from previous years, which saw them produce documents on economic, political, and security matters. They were seen as blueprints of global action.

Officials from the United States said that it is less important for G-20 as an entity to take a united stance than for individual countries to do so.

There has been intense competition among both sides for their support. Wang and Lavrov both stopped in different Asian capitals as they traveled to Bali. This allowed them to drum up support for Russian and Chinese positions, and strengthen their relations with other non-aligned countries.

Blinken and the French, Germans, Brits, and the French arrived in Bali last week after two Western-oriented gatherings in Europe: NATO and G-7. At these summits there were little tension and debate, while unity was achieved on Ukraine.

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Because of its wider membership (including countries like Indonesia as host) and the large number of developing nations such Brazil, India, South Africa and South Africa, the G-20 can be more varied, less skeptical about Western intentions, open to offer and request from China, Russia and China, but also more susceptible to Western threats.

Attempting to ply a middle route, this year’s G-20 president, Indonesia, has tried to bridge what gaps are possible, laying out an agenda that is not inherently divisive or political. The country has sought to remain neutral in dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and President Joko Widodo has been guarded in his comments.

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