Western leaders will on Tuesday try to corner and isolate Russia at the G20 summit in Bali by saying it is Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine that has led to the world crisis in food security, mounting debt and rampant inflation.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, will address the leaders of the world’s most industrialized nations by video link and insist the nine-month war to liberate his country is one that the global south should embrace, and cannot remain neutral.
US officials were confident that the gathering would condemn Russia’s war of aggression in the strongest possible terms. “The G20 will make clear that Russia’s war is wreaking havoc for people everywhere and for the global economy as a whole,” the official said. Most G20 nations agreed the war in Ukraine was “the root of the economic suffering and instability that we see in many parts of the world”, the official added.
Joko Widodo, the president of host country Indonesia, told G20 members to “end the war” as he opened the leaders’ summit on Tuesday in Bali. “Being responsible means creating not zero-sum situations, being responsible here also means that we must end the war. If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward,” he told leaders ahead of the summit’s opening session.
Indonesia is hosting its largest global gathering in its history, and has been pressing the west to tone down its criticisms of Russia to prevent the summit failing to reach agreement on wider issues. Indonesia is desperate to avoid walkouts or rows that lead to a failure to agree a joint communique. But official level progress on the communique was made on the eve of summit talks on the rain-lashed resort on Monday.
Sergei Lavrov, the veteran Russian foreign minister, is representing Vladimir Putin, who pulled out fearing he was facing a two-day harangue from western leaders. Putin is also under growing criticism from his ally China over his frequent threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Ahead of the summit, the US, EU and UK issued a joint statement trying to counter Russian claims that the deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grains through the Black Sea has been undermined by a failure of the west to lift indirect sanctions on exports of Russian fertilisers.
The grain deal, negotiated jointly by Turkey and the UN in July, has been a rare patch of diplomatic sunlight, but is up for renewal on Friday. Russia and Ukraine account for roughly 30% of all wheat and barley exports, a fifth of maize, and more than half of all sunflower oil.
The deal allowing exports past the Russian navy from three Ukrainian seaports has been critical to lowering grain prices.
But Russia claims the deal is lop-sided because western sanctions have indirectly continued to cast a shadow over the exports of Russian grain by affecting payments, insurance and shipping. The Russian foreign ministry has insisted that only ensuring unhindered access of its food and fertilizers to world markets will make it possible to achieve price stabilization and guarantee future harvests. Russia has already suspended its cooperation once.
Russia also claims Ukrainian grain that has been exported has almost exclusively gone to wealthy European markets rather than poorer countries. It is touting a rival plan to provide free grain to the world’s poorest countries.
Many Russian banks were disconnected from the Swift financial messaging system earlier this year, making it difficult to carry out direct settlements for exports. Russia wants its main agricultural lender, Rosselkhozbank, to be reconnected.
The dispute over the future of the grain deal is part of a wider diplomatic battle between Russia and the west to convince skeptics in the global south that right is on their side. Ukraine chalked up a victory when the UN general assembly voted on Monday night by 94 to 17 to require Russia to pay reparations for its invasion of Ukraine. A total of 73 abstained, showing the large constituency that fear reparations will delay a peace deal.
In a sign of the intensity of the diplomatic battle, French president Emmanuel Macron met leaders from South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Senegal and Rwanda on the sidelines of the Bali summit. He also held talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. He told him it was in China’s interests to push Putin back into talks.
Macron again said he would be in touch with Putin after the G20 summit, and wanted diplomacy to succeed. Some western leaders tout diplomacy because they genuinely believe it may bring peace, and others because they know the global south wants to see diplomacy tried.
Behind the scenes, relations between Ukraine and the US have been strained by the mixed messages emerging from Washington over whether Ukraine’s recent military advances, and the advent of winter provide an opportunity for Kyiv to open peace talks with Russia. US General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has openly condemned the suggestion that winter provided an opportune moment for talks, but the US national security adviser Jake Sullivan tried to stamp on the idea that the US wants Ukraine to accept a settlement that leaves part of occupied Ukraine in Russian hands.
The Ukrainian chief of defense staff, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, held what was described as a blunt conversation with Milley on Monday. He is seeking US agreement to supply drones and anti-drone missiles.
A rare meeting between the CIA director William Burns and Sergey Naryshkin, the Russian director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), in Ankara added to the suspicion that the US was using back channels to test Russian willingness to hold talks.
The White House insisted after the talks were leaked by the Russian side that Burns “is not conducting negotiations of any kind. He is not discussing settlement of the war in Ukraine. He is conveying a message on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, and the risks of escalation to strategic stability.”
The summit itself is due to discuss food security in the morning and post-pandemic global health in the afternoon.