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G20 talks dominated by Ukraine war, Indonesia tries broker consensus

Inaugurated on Friday, the first day of the two-day G20 summit saw finance leaders descend on Bali as host Indonesia urged the participant to engage in determined solution-seeking to the global economic threats sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The G20 talks have been rough from the very beginning owning to the presence of Russian officials invited by Indonesia, along with Ukrainian representatives, in order to maintain the fragile neutrality of the event. The Russian delegation found itself slammed by some Western ministers, with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen saying Russia’s “brutal and unjust war” was solely responsible for the economic crisis the world now faced.

To recall, some G20 members sanctioned Russia, namely the EU, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. Meanwhile, Russia itself is a member of the group, as well as nations like China, India and South Africa, which have been more cautious in their responses.

A series of G20 meetings, including last week’s gathering of foreign ministers, have been dominated by a single topic, namely, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin shamelessly continues to dub a “special military operation”.

But Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati felt the world had high hopes the group could resolve the threat of war, rising commodity prices and the spillover effects on the ability of low-income countries to repay debt.

“We are acutely aware that the cost of our failure to work together is more than we can afford. The humanitarian consequences for the world, and especially for many low-income countries would be catastrophic,” she said.

Ms Sri Mulyani called for G20 members to talk less about politics and “build bridges between each other” to deliver more technical decisions and concrete action.

Criticism but no walkout

But Ms Yellen made himself clear by ascribing the responsibility for the “horrific consequences” of the war to Russian finance officials present at the meeting. “By starting this war, Russia is solely responsible for negative spillovers to the global economy, particularly higher commodity prices,” Ms Yellen said.

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Russian officials that she held them personally responsible for “war crimes” perpetrated during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported citing a Western official.

Ms Freeland, whose maternal grandparents were born in Ukraine, made a speech during the opening G20 session when she said that the war was the “single biggest threat to the global economy right now.”

Concerning Russian officials, Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov was seen attending the meetings in Bali in person, whereas Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov appeared online at the time, according to Reuters sources.

No walkout occurred when Mr Maksimov addressed the gathering, despite Western countries repeatedly saying that there could not be “business as usual” at the G20 meetings owning to Russia’s presence.

Last week in Bali, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walked out of one session of a G20 meeting with his counterparts, following what he called “frenzied criticism” of his country over the war. That meeting ended without a communique nor any announcements of agreements.

Ms Yellen said one of her key objectives was to push G20 creditors, including China, to finalise debt relief for countries in debt distress.

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