G-20 diplomats agree on draft statement despite rifts on Russia: Report

If leaders sign off on a proposed communique, it will avoid this becoming the first G-20 summit to end without a joint statement at all. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NUSA DUA, Indonesia – Group of 20 (G-20) diplomats agreed on a proposed communique to put to their leaders when they meet on Tuesday in Bali, Indonesia, after a tense day of negotiations to overcome differences on how hard to criticise Russia for its war in Ukraine, according to officials familiar with the matter.

If the leaders sign off, it will avoid this becoming the first G-20 summit to end without a joint statement at all. To get there, negotiators had to devise language that walked the line between acknowledging Russia’s concerns and extracting concessions from it. 

One diplomat cautioned that things were not completely ironed on, with the full draft still not circulating even as a verbal understanding was reached and with leaders yet to approve the language. It comes as Russian military hawks have been pressing President Vladimir Putin to take an even harder line on Ukraine with his forces struggling on the ground, having recently withdrawn from the southern city of Kherson.

The planned draft declaration will point to an earlier United Nations resolution, which deplored Russia’s aggression while demanding it withdraw from Ukraine, the people said.

At the same time, the proposed G-20 statement will note differences between some nations by recalling their previously stated positions on the conflict, the people said. One added that the plan for now was to refer to the “war in Ukraine” as opposed to “Russia’s war in Ukraine”. Moscow insists on calling its invasion a “special military operation” and has made it a criminal offence at home to describe it as a war.

Some officials had talked earlier on Monday of the prospect of a communique involving different language in some parts where the war would be described. Three diplomats said this had indeed provided a way through for the Indonesian hosts. 

There was also agreement on language condemning any threats to use nuclear weapons, the two diplomats said, in a reference to Moscow’s vow to use any and all means at its disposal to defend territory it has illegally annexed in Ukraine.

A deal on a text to present to leaders is a relief for the hosts and supporter nations headed into the formal start of the summit on Tuesday.

The divisions in the lead-up to the meeting have highlighted the fractures between wealthier members and those who have borne the brunt of economic disruption first from the Covid-19 pandemic, and now food and energy insecurity exacerbated by Russia’s war.

Some member states had expressed reservations about language they regarded as too aggressive on Russia. One official had cited concern by China that allowing condemnation of Moscow could open the door to stronger statements in the future on Beijing’s own behaviour towards Taiwan, a democratically governed island.

The White House declined on Tuesday to say what final form a communique would take, but a senior United States official said it was confident the summit would result in statements that spoke in clear terms to condemn the war as the root cause of economic suffering in many parts of the world. The language would make clear that “most” G-20 members denounced the war, the official said.

While Mr Putin may not be attending the summit in person, the event logistics are also proving tricky. Some officials said it is still unclear whether Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who Mr Putin sent in his stead, will take part in social events such as the traditional “family photo” of leaders. 

Even the hosts do not know what events Mr Lavrov may pop up at, one of the people said. In the run-up to the summit, Russian diplomats doing preparation work have largely stayed apart from their counterparts from other countries, adding to perceptions of Moscow’s isolation.

The Russian President is also expected to skip a virtual appearance at a session on food and energy security, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky possibly dialling in.

Mr Lavrov, meanwhile, is set to leave the summit early and has only a handful of bilateral meetings scheduled, another G-20 official said.

In a sign of just how much Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has overshadowed the summit, the aspirations for other topics on the agenda, including health and climate change, have been modest: to reaffirm what the group agreed to in Rome during last year’s summit. That is where most of the technical discussion around the communique took place, officials have said. BLOOMBERG

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.