Delegate protests over Russia to upstage G-20 meeting

Some in Western capitals argue that Russia's actions should mean it is excluded from global meetings altogether. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Western nations are preparing to stage coordinated walk-outs and other diplomatic snubs to protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine at Wednesday's (April 20) meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Washington, their officials said.

While some in Western capitals argue that Russia's actions should mean it is excluded from global meetings altogether, that is not a view shared by others in the Group of 20 big economies, including notably China and Indonesia, which is chairing the group this year.

Moscow confirmed on Tuesday Finance Minister Anton Siluanov would lead Russia's delegation at the talks despite repeated protestations by Western diplomats that they could not go ahead as usual during a war in which thousands of civilians have died in bombardments by Russian troops.

"During and after the meeting we will be certain to send a strong message and we will not be alone in doing so," a German government source said, accusing Russia of starting a conflict that has also sent world food and energy prices spiralling.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plans to avoid G-20 sessions joined by Russian officials on the sidelines of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings. But Ms Yellen will attend an opening session on the Ukraine war regardless of Russian participation, a US Treasury official said.

British finance minister Rishi Sunak also will not attend certain G-20 sessions, a British government source told Reuters.

And a French finance ministry official meanwhile expected some ministers from Group of Seven nations to leave their seats when their Russian peer was due to speak.

The divisions widened by the Ukraine war raise questions over the G-20's future as the world's premier economic policy forum.

Conceived as a platform for the biggest wealthy and developing economies to cooperate on recovery efforts during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, the G-20 has since broached everything from global tax reform to pandemic debt relief and the fight against climate change, with a patchy record of success.

"The G-20 is at risk of unravelling and this week is incredibly important," said Mr Josh Lipsky, director of the Atlantic Council's GeoEconomics Centre and a former IMF adviser.

Should Western democracies allow the group to wither in favour of the G-7 or other groupings, it would cede significant economic influence to China, Mr Lipsky said.

"Russia can align with China and I think that's a good outcome from Russia's perspective and actually gives them more influence than they have in a body like the G-20," he said.

Both the French and the German official said there would be no agreed communique at the end of a meeting which had been originally due to discuss the state of the global economy and coordinating vaccine and other pandemic efforts.

Apart from the G-7 nations - the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy - the G-20 also incorporates emerging economies including China, India and Brazil that have starkly different views on how the global economy should work.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the fact that some G-20 nations have chosen not to follow Western sanctions on Russia is only the latest challenge to efforts to construct a global set of rules for trade and finance.

The United States and China have long traded accusations of protectionism, while the fact that world trade is growing more slowly than the global economy as a whole has prompted questions about the future of globalisation.

Ahead of the G-20 meeting, a top IMF official warned of the risk of a fragmenting global economy.

"One scenario is one where we have divided blocs that are not trading much with each other, that are on different standards, and that would be a disaster for the global economy," IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas told reporters.

Separately, the Fund slashed its forecast for global economic growth by nearly a full percentage point, citing Russia's war in Ukraine, and warning inflation was a "clear and present danger" for many countries.

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