G20 diplomats fail on unity over war in Ukraine’s global impact

Deeply divided senior diplomats from the world’s wealthiest and largest developing countries have failed to find common ground on Russia’s War in Ukraine and how to manage its global impacts, leaving the prospects for future cooperation within the forum uncertain.

In talks that were turned upside down by two unrelated and unexpected political developments, including the shocking assassination of a former Japanese prime minister, far from the Indonesian resort town of Bali where they were meeting, the Group of 20 foreign ministers heard a moving call for unity and an end to the war from their Indonesian host.

Yet consensus has remained elusive amid deepening East-West divisions brought about by China and Russia on one side and the United States and Europe on the other.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, takes part in a trilateral meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, right, and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, left, during the ministers' summit of the G-20 Foreign Affairs in Nusa Dua, on Indonesia's resort island Bali Friday, July 8, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, takes part in a trilateral meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, right, and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, left, during the ministers’ summit of the G-20 Foreign Affairs in Nusa Dua, on Indonesia’s resort island Bali Friday, July 8, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

There was no group photo taken or final communiqué issued as had been done in previous years, and acrimony appeared to be pervasive, especially between Russia and the Western participants.

Despite being present in the same room at the same time for the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointedly ignored each other.

Lavrov left the proceedings at least twice: once when his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock spoke during the opening session and another just before Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke via video during of the second session, according to a Western diplomat present.

The meeting opened just hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday, prompting his Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to leave Bali, and had just begun when former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot. Abe later died of his injuries.

Johnson and Abe are well known to the G20 family, having attended numerous similar leaders’ conferences and summits in the past.

One of the objectives of Friday’s meeting was to lay the groundwork for the upcoming G20 summit that Indonesia will host in November.

Many, if not all, of the participants expressed shock at the Abe shooting that occurred as they held the first of two plenary sessions on the importance of restoring trust in multilateralism and maintaining the rules-based world 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 facing multiple challenges ranging from coronavirus to climate change via Ukraine.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi gestures as she delivers her press statement after the conclusion of the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara , Pool)
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi gestures as she delivers her press statement after the conclusion of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara , Pool) (AP)

“The world has not yet recovered from the pandemic but we are already facing another crisis: the war in Ukraine,” Marsudi said.

“The ripple effects are felt globally on food, energy and physical space.”

She noted that poor and developing countries now face the brunt of fuel and grain shortages resulting from the war in Ukraine and said the G20 has a responsibility to step up and address the issue to ensure that the rules-based global order remains relevant.

The war in Ukraine has shaken that order, she said, as Lavrov seemed to shuffle the papers expressionlessly at his seat between the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

“Honestly, we can’t deny that it’s gotten harder for the world to sit together,” Marsudi said.

She added plaintively, “The world is watching us, so we can’t fail.”

She said the war in Ukraine was discussed at almost every bilateral meeting during the one-day meeting.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero, right, during the G-20 Foreign Ministers' Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero, right, during the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

But after the meeting ended, Marsudi could not report any agreement reached by all participants, although she said there had been great concern about the food and energy disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine. She added that only “some countries have expressed their condemnation of the act of invasion”.

Indeed, although they were seated around the same large conference table, neither Lavrov nor Blinken spoke to each other.

“You know, it was not us who gave up all contacts,” Lavrov told reporters after the first session.

“It was the United States. That’s all I can say. And we’re not chasing anyone who suggests meetings. If they don’t want to talk, that’s their choice.”

When asked why there was no group photo, Lavrov replied, “I didn’t invite anyone to pose for a photo with me.”

In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry's press service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franca walk during their bilateral meeting ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers G20 Foreign Affairs in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franca walk during their bilateral meeting ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers G20 Foreign Affairs in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP) (AP)

“Obviously they used the G20 for purposes that were not envisioned when it was created,” he said.

Shortly after, Blinken took direct aim at the Russian delegation, accusing Moscow at the second session of the G-20 of blocking millions of tons of grain in Ukrainian ports and causing food insecurity in large parts of the world, according to a Western diplomat present.

Lavrov was not there for Blinken’s comments and his replacement began Russia’s intervention by telling the group it had not prepared remarks, according to the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity for describe the closed meeting.

US officials had said they were determined not to let distractions distract from what they said should be the main focus of the Bali conference: the disruption of the world’s food and food supply. energy caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, blaming Moscow and mustering a response to stem the shortages that are already wreaking havoc in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

US officials had hinted there would be no group statement as had been the case in previous years when the group produced joint statements on key issues such as terrorism, transnational crime, climate and economic issues that were seen as blueprints for global action.

US officials said it was less important for the G20 to present a unified position as a whole than for smaller blocs of countries and individual nations to speak out and act.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero during the G-20 Foreign Ministers' Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero during the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Friday, July 8, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

The competition for support between the parties has been fierce. Wang and Lavrov each stopped in various Asian capitals en route to Bali, gaining support for various Chinese and Russian positions and strengthening their ties among non-allied nations.

Blinken, the French, the Germans and the British, meanwhile, all arrived in Bali after two Western-oriented gatherings held in Europe last week: the G-7 and NATO summits where there were few signs of rancor or debate and unity on Ukraine was assured.

With its broader membership, including countries like host Indonesia and big developing countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and others, the G20 is far more diverse, skeptical of intentions and more open to pleas and offers from big neighbors like China and Russia and more vulnerable to their threats.

Attempting to take a middle course, this year’s G20 chair, Indonesia, has attempted to bridge the possible gaps, establishing an agenda that is not inherently divisive or political.

The country sought to remain neutral in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and President Joko Widodo was reserved in his comments.

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