Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has flown to the Indonesian island of Bali for a meeting of G20 foreign ministers, likely to be overshadowed by Moscow’s war in Ukraine and deep divisions within the bloc over how the crisis must be responded to.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will all attend the meeting as Western governments worry about the war’s impact on the cost of food and fuel, prompting the UN to warn of an “unprecedented wave of hunger and poverty”.
The meeting marks the first time Lavrov has met counterparts from countries highly critical of the war.
Analysts wonder how much can be achieved by the G20, which is rife with disagreements over how to manage the war in Ukraine and its global consequences. While Western members have accused Moscow of war crimes and imposed unprecedented sanctions, others — such as China, Indonesia, India and South Africa — have not taken the same critical stance.
On Wednesday, Lavrov called on all parties in the world to make an effort to protect international laws, saying: “The world is evolving in a complicated way.”
Earlier this week, China attacked the US and NATO, declaring that Washington “will only comply with international rules when it sees fit”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing that the so-called rules-based international order is actually a family rule created by a handful of countries to serve US self-interest.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christian Wagner said ahead of Thursday’s meeting that it would not be a “normal summit” or “business as usual”.
Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is leading the meeting, likely hopes to avoid a “disastrous meeting.”
There is such a diverse array of countries and positions around the table that it is “almost unmanageable,” Kurlantzick said. “The differences between some G20 countries are too great to really draw conclusions about almost everything. It will be miraculous if no one runs away, as happened at the meeting of finance ministers.”
In April, the UK, US and Canada staged a coordinated strike at a G20 meeting in protest at the Russian invasion.
Some western countries had threatened to boycott the G20 meetings, but the US State Department said Tuesday that Blinken would be a “full and active participant”. There would be no formal meeting between the US and Lavrov, it said, adding that Russian was not “serious about diplomacy”.
“We have not seen that yet,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. “We would like the Russians to give us a reason to meet with them on a bilateral basis, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but all we have seen coming from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and the country of Ukraine.”
Blinken will hold separate talks with Wang “to talk about having guardrails” on US-China relations so that competition “doesn’t spill over into miscalculations or clashes,” US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink said.
“This will be another opportunity … to convey our expectations of what we expect China to do and not do in the context of Ukraine,” he said.
The global crisis in the cost of food and energy will feature prominently at the G20 meeting, US officials said.
Ukraine is a major supplier of sunflower oil and corn and grows enough wheat to feed 400 million people. However, exports have been severely disrupted by the Russian invasion and the blockade of the sea routes through Moscow.
Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is commonly known, recently visited both Ukraine and Russia and requested measures to enable exports – which Indonesia, like many other countries, relies heavily on.
Indonesia maintains an “independent and active” approach to foreign policy and has sought to act as a neutral player who could assist the negotiations.
Jokowi probably hopes “to show himself as a world leader and simply avoid a disastrous encounter,” Kurlantzick said.
“He probably hopes for some kind of situation where nobody leaves the meeting, he avoids a complete disaster, and he helps keep the dialogue going between all the different actors, maybe with the aim of getting Russia to export grain again for many countries, maybe they can also achieve another small goal,” Kurlantzick added.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report