A Western-led push to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominated Tuesday’s Group of 20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali where leaders of major economies grappled with a dizzying array of issues from hunger to nuclear threats.
President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of neighbouring Ukraine has pummelled the global economy and revived Cold War-era geopolitical divisions just as the world was emerging from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As at other recent international forums, the United States and its allies were pursuing a statement from the two-day G20 summit to condemn Moscow’s military actions.
But Russia said “politicisation” of the summit was unfair.
“Yes, there is a war going on in Ukraine, a hybrid war that the West has unleashed and been preparing for years,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, repeating Putin’s line that military alliance NATO’s expansion had threatened Russia.
A 16-page draft declaration seen by Reuters, which diplomats said was yet to be adopted by leaders, acknowledged the rift.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” it said.
“There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
The summit is the first G20 leaders’ gathering since Russia sent its forces into Ukraine. The 20 nations account for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product, 75% of international trade and 60% of its population.
Hosts Indonesia have pleaded for unity and a focus on action to resolve problems like inflation, hunger and high energy prices, all exacerbated by the Ukraine war.
“We have no other option, collaboration is needed to save the world,” said Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
“G20 must be the catalyst for inclusive economic recovery. We should not divide the world into parts. We must not allow the world to fall into another Cold War.”
The draft summit document also said G20 central banks would calibrate monetary tightening with an eye on the global inflation problem, while fiscal stimulus should be “temporary and targeted” to help the vulnerable while not hiking prices.
On debt, it voiced concern about the “deteriorating” situation of some middle-income countries and stressed the importance of all creditors sharing a fair burden.
But it did not mention China, which has been criticised in the West for delaying efforts to ease debt strains for some emerging economies.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the summit in a virtual address that now was the time to stop Russia’s invasion and implement a 10-point peace plan he has proposed. Kyiv is demanding a full Russian withdrawal from occupied territories.
Zelenskiy called for restoring “radiation safety” at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, price restrictions on Russian energy resources, and an expanded grain export initiative.
A U.S. official said Washington wanted a clear G20 message against Russia’s invasion and its impact on the global economy, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there were encouraging signs of consensus that the war was unacceptable.
Lavrov said he listened to Zelenskiy’s address. He accused him of prolonging the conflict and ignoring Western advice.
Russia has said Putin was too busy to attend the summit.
There was an encouraging sign on the eve of the summit, however, when U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose nations have been increasingly estranged, met and pledged more frequent communication.
Both men stated their opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, according to readouts from both sides.
Russia has said it reserves the right to use any means including nuclear capability to defend its security.
China and Russia are close, but Beijing has been careful not to provide any direct material support for the Ukraine war that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
Xi told French President Emmanuel Macron during another bilateral meeting that Beijing advocated a ceasefire in Ukraine and peace talks, Chinese state media reported.
Civil society groups blasted the G20 draft declaration for failing to take action on hunger, not strengthening efforts to fund development, and losing sight of an earlier commitment to provide $100 billion in climate financing by 2023.
“The G20 is merely repeating old commitments from previous years or noting developments elsewhere, rather than taking on leadership themselves,” said Friederike Roder of the group Global Citizen. “Fifty million people are at the brink of starvation as we speak. There is no time for the G20 to issue calls to action – they are the ones who have to act.”
Leaders mingled at a gala dinner on Tuesday evening, many wearing traditional Indonesian batik shirts. Host Widodo quipped that he hoped the food was not too spicy for foreigners.
Biden, however, missed the meal. “It’s been a long day and he has other matters he needed to attend to,” a White House official said.