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‘Diplomatic drama’ possible over Russian attendance at G20 meeting in Bali

Group of Twenty diplomats will gather in Bali this week for a meeting that analysts expect will turn into a “diplomatic drama” over the participation of Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister of Russia, which the West has ostracized for invading Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are scheduled to attend the G20 meeting, which is set to begin on Thursday, and hold talks on the sidelines the next day, but a bilateral meeting between America’s top diplomat and Lavrov is not on the cards, officials in Washington said.

Still, analysts warned, divisions over Lavrov’s presence could sidetrack delegates at the Bali gathering hosted by Indonesia, this year’s G20 chair.

“It is likely there will be a diplomatic drama, such as statements that criticize Russia,” Riza Noer Arfani, an international relations lecturer at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, told BenarNews.

“If the foreign ministers engaged in a diplomatic drama, more substantial issues such as efforts to mitigate the impact of the [Russia-Ukraine] war could be left unaddressed and that would make the meeting fruitless.”

Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Indonesia’s president, has warned that a global food crisis caused by the war would send people in developing and poor countries into “the abyss of extreme poverty and hunger.”

Since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, its military forces have blocked all of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and cut off access to almost all of that country’s exports – especially of grain – sparking fears of a global food crisis.

However during a meeting in Moscow last week, Russian leader Vladimir Putin assured Jokowi that he would provide secure food and fertilizer supplies from his country and Ukraine, to avert a global food crisis. 

While Western countries led by the U.S. have called on Russia to be disinvited from G20 meetings, other members of the grouping such as Indonesia and India refuse to do so and continue to maintain ties with Russia.

During a stopover on Wednesday in Vietnam, a close Russian ally, Lavrov said he was not aware of any attempts to stop Russia from participating in G20 meetings.

“We have Indonesia’s invitation to attend both a [G20] Foreign Ministers Meeting to open in Bali tomorrow, and a G20 summit there in November,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted him as saying.

“If there have been any such attempts, the Indonesian authorities might have ignored them,” he said.

‘Give us a reason to meet’

Meanwhile, there promises to be plenty of drama at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali.

Lavrov’s Canadian counterpart has warned she would not shake his hand. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has promised some kind of response, saying “we will not simply let Russia take the stage of the meeting.”

“We all have an interest in ensuring that international law is observed and respected,” she said in a statement before departing for Bali.

“That is the common denominator.”

Blinken plans to shun Lavrov as well.

The U.S. State Department said Blinken would not meet Lavrov formally.

“We would like to see the Russians be serious about diplomacy. We have not seen that yet,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday.

“We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them, with foreign minister Lavrov, but the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine,” he said.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that all G20 member countries would be represented by their top diplomats.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah declined to comment on possible tensions over Lavrov’s participation, but said:  “We as diplomats must anticipate all possibilities.”

He said that the summary of the meeting’s outcome could be in the form of a chair’s statement from Indonesia.

Vasyl Harmianin, the Ukrainian ambassador to Indonesia, said he hoped the meeting could spotlight what he called “the continued killing of civilians” in his home country.

Preview of G20 summit

Jakarta, which has been trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, said the meeting would discuss collective efforts to strengthen “multilateralism” and avert a looming food crisis caused by the war.

“Rising commodity prices and disruption of global supply chains have had a huge impact on developing countries,” the foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

“For this reason, the G20 as an economic forum representing different regions of the world has the power to discuss these issues comprehensively to find sustainable socio-economic solutions.”

This week’s meeting could set the tone for the G20 summit in November, according to Agus Haryanto, a professor of international relations at Jenderal Soedirman University in Purwokerta.

“It will provide us with an idea of how the G20 summit will go. If the ministerial meeting is successful, it is likely that the summit will be attended by all heads of government,” Agus told BenarNews.

The ministers should talk about how to bring peace to Ukraine after Jokowi’s visit to Kyiv and Moscow last week, a senior Indonesian diplomat, Sugeng Rahardjo, told the national news agency Antara.

“The positive results from Jokowi’s trip deserve follow-up by G20 members at their meeting in Bali,” Sugeng told the national news agency Antara.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.