WASHINGTON/LONDON (REUTERS) - Top officials from Britain, the United States and Canada walked out on Russia’s representatives at a Group of 20 (G-20) meeting on Wednesday (April 20) and many members spoke to condemn Moscow’s war in Ukraine, exposing deep divisions in the bloc of major economies.
Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who chaired the meeting of G-20 finance officials in Washington, acknowledged the body faced unprecedented challenges but called for cooperation to overcome headwinds slowing global growth.
“This is an extraordinary situation,” Indrawati told reporters after the daylong meeting. “It’s not business as usual, a very dynamic and challenging one.”
The G-20 includes Western countries that have accused Moscow of war crimes in Ukraine, as well as China, India, Indonesia and South Africa which have not joined Western-led sanctions against Russia over the conflict.
Indrawati said many countries spoke out against the war at the meeting, although she did not identify them.
“In order for us to be able to recover together... we need more and even stronger cooperation,” Indrawati told a briefing. “The G20 is still... the premier forum for all of us to be able to discuss and talk about all the issues.”
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told attendees she strongly disapproved of a senior Russian official’s presence at the meeting before she walked out, two sources told Reuters.
She was joined by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde.
Ukrainian officials, in Washington seeking billions of dollars of additional funding, also walked out of the meeting, a source familiar with the meeting said.
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov represented Moscow in person, while Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Russia’s central bank governor joined virtually, a second source said.
Over five million Ukrainians have fled abroad since Russia invaded on Feb 24, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
The United States accuses Russia of committing war crimes in what Moscow calls a “special military operation”. Russia denies the allegations.
No 'business as usual'
One source added that Yellen told participants there could be “no business-as-usual” for Russia in the global economy, a view echoed by Indrawati, whose government is heading the G-20 group this year.
British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said in a tweet: “We are united in our condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and will push for stronger international coordination to punish Russia.”
Russia’s finance ministry did not mention the walkout in a statement issued after the meeting.
It cited Siluanov as calling on the G-20 not to politicise dialogue between members and stressing the grouping had always focused on the economy. He also complained about the damaging effect of Western sanctions, the statement said.
“Another aspect of the current crisis is the undermining of confidence in the existing international monetary and financial system,” it said. “The safety of international reserves and the possibility of free trade and financial transactions are no longer guaranteed.”
Lagarde urged Maksimov to convey to Moscow a clear message - to end the war in Ukraine, one of the sources said.
G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors met on the sidelines of a semi-annual conference held by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, with the Ukraine war, food security and ongoing recovery from the coronavirus pandemic the key topics.
Given the divisions, the group did not issue a communique. Instead, Indrawati read a statement summarising the meeting and underscoring the importance of the body.
Freeland, who is of Ukrainian descent and has made impassioned pleas on behalf of the country, said she walked out of a G-20 plenary meeting to protest against Russia’s participation.
“This week’s meetings in Washington are about supporting the world economy – and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is a grave threat to the global economy,” she said on Twitter, adding that Russia should not be participating.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Wednesday acknowledged it was a "difficult moment" for the G-20, a forum that has played a key role in coordinating the fight against Covid-19 and responding to the 2008-2009 financial crisis. But she insisted that cooperation through the forum would continue.
"There are clearly very, very unsettling facts we have to deal with," said Georgieva, a Bulgarian native. "But we also recognize how interdependent we are... And it is so obvious that cooperation must and will continue."
Georgieva and Yellen have warned against a fragmentation of the global economy into geopolitical blocs, with the United States and market-driven democracies on one side and China, Russia and other state-driven economies on another.