Russia's Lavrov is pariah at G-20 event, but only for some

Indonesia's Retno Marsudi (right) welcomes Russia's Sergei Lavrov at the G-20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NUSA DUA, INDONESIA (NYTIMES) - He was shunned by many, though by no means all.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 industrialised nations in Bali on Friday (July 8), despite his country's pariah status in Europe and elsewhere over its brutal war in Ukraine.

His country's invasion of its neighbour drove two central topics of discussion at the annual event: global disruptions of food and energy supplies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to meet with Lavrov, as did several other Western foreign ministers. So many attendees refused to pose with Moscow's top diplomat that a customary group photograph was cancelled.

But in a reflection of why Russia remains able to do business with the outside world and fund its relentless war machine, Lavrov sat down with several ministers from nations that have declined to join the Western-led coalition against his country. They included diplomats from China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina and Indonesia.

Lavrov's activities were one of several dramatic plotlines at a G-20 gathering also shadowed by the announcement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Thursday that he plans to resign and the Friday assassination of Japan's former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, an act that Blinken called "shocking" and "a loss for the world".

The gathering concluded without a traditional joint communiqué expressing shared goals, an impossible feat given that Russia would have had to sign off on any such document.

Blinken took indirect aim at his Russian counterpart during a plenary session focused on food and energy insecurity, renewing Western charges that Russia's blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports is preventing the export of grain and other agricultural products, causing shortages and spiralling prices worldwide.

"To our Russian colleagues: Ukraine is not your country," Blinken said. "Its grain is not your grain. Why are you blocking the ports? You should let the grain out."

He noted that the United States had committed more than US$5 billion to addressing the problem, while Russia has provided less than .02 per cent of all donations to the United Nations' World Food Programme.

Lavrov was not listening, however. He had made only a brief appearance at the session and delegated Russia's official speaking role to an unprepared subordinate, according to a Western official who was in the room.

Earlier, Lavrov had walked out of a group session during pointed remarks about Ukraine by Germany's foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, according to Western officials.

In remarks to reporters later, the acerbic Russian diplomat was anything but cowed, insisting that he enjoyed the moral high ground.

Lavrov said that "blatant Russophobia" was causing Western nations to persecute Russia and that their sanctions were causing collateral damage to the global economy.

He said the United States and other Western nations were prioritising harm towards Russia above the G-20's mission of promoting global economic health.

"The fact that they are not using the G-20 for the objective that it was established for is obvious," he said.

Lavrov appeared to dismiss a proposal to create a sea corridor for Ukrainian grain exports as a Nato plot to insert its warships in the Black Sea. And he rejected any notion that he was disappointed not to interact with Blinken, with whom he last spoke during a mid-January meeting in Geneva that American officials saw as a last-ditch effort to head off an invasion.

The Treasury Department placed sanctions on Lavrov a few weeks later, calling him "directly responsible" for the Feb 24 military incursion.

"It was not us who abandoned all contacts; it was the United States," Lavrov said on Friday. "And we are not running after anybody suggesting meetings. If they don't want to talk, it's their choice."

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Lavrov also took an opportunity to disparage Johnson a day after he said he would step aside for a new leader. Johnson had led one the West's most aggressive responses toward Russia's invasion, strongly supporting Ukraine's government.

"They were trying to establish this new alliance - the UK, the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine," Lavrov said, calling it an attempt to create "an English bridgehead on the continent" after Britain's exit from the European Union.

"They were saying that Nato isolated Russia," Lavrov said. "It was his party that isolated Boris Johnson."

The news of Johnson's planned resignation led his foreign minister and potential successor, Liz Truss, to return to London and miss Friday's programme.

While Lavrov's mockery of Johnson and the West was not seconded by other attendees, it was clear that American and European views towards Russia and Ukraine did not represent a consensus among the ministers in Bali.

In opening remarks as the event's host, Indonesia's foreign minister departed from Western rhetoric when she said that growing food and energy disruptions make it the world's "responsibility to end the war sooner than later and settle our differences at the negotiating table, not the battlefield".

US and European officials have generally tried to avoid the perception of pressuring Ukraine into peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom they doubt would negotiate in good faith.

While Lavrov may be barred from travel to the United States and the European Union, he moved freely through the luxury hotel that hosted the Bali gathering, which opened on Thursday.

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar who was seen strolling and chatting with Lavrov through the hotel lobby, said on Twitter that he and Lavrov had "exchanged views" on matters including "the Ukraine conflict" and Afghanistan.

India has friendly relations with Moscow, a longtime patron and source of arms sales. It has also helped Russia weather sanctions by increasing its purchases of Russian oil, taking advantage of a significant discount offered by Moscow.

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