Sergey Lavrov is not having the best G20 summit. The Russian Foreign Minister began his visit to Indonesia Monday by refuting reports he had been rushed to hospital – posting a video from his hotel in shorts and a T-shirt to show he was still in good health.
Then, on Tuesday, the first official day of the summit, he had to sit through a video address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the gathered world leaders, many of whom also issued criticisms of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be stopped,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Please choose your path for leadership – and together we will surely implement the formula for peace.”
He outlined a peace plan and called for a special tribunal to investigate Russian war crimes. He said the recent liberation of Kherson was like the D-Day landings, “not yet a final point in the fight against evil, but it already determined the entire further course of events. This is exactly what we are feeling now.”
Speaking to reporters later the same day, Mr. Lavrov complained that the Ukrainian leader had spoken for “20 minutes, even though the average participant had some three minutes to give everyone time to talk.”
“It was impossible to interrupt him because it was a prerecorded video,” Mr. Lavrov said, adding the speech was “pretty hostile, pretty Russophobic, pretty aggressive.”
He accused Western countries of trying to “politicize” a leaders’ declaration to be issued at the culmination of the summit and of trying to “drag in statements that would condemn the actions of the Russian Federation on behalf of the entire G20.”
No one seemed to be denying that. European Council President Charles Michel told reporters here Tuesday that he had been working to “convince all the partners of the Group of 20 to put more pressure on Russia.” A draft of the leaders’ statement shared with several media outlets, condemned the war in Ukraine in broad terms and stressed that it was exacerbating the fragility of economies around the world.
While some countries have argued the G20 is a forum for discussing economic matters, the draft acknowledges “that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
Mr. Lavrov said such matters were “not within the competence of the G20 group,” but he agreed to “put down on paper that we have certain divergences,” before railing against what he said was Western aggression in Ukraine and support for “neo-Nazi forces.”
Russia is alone among major economies at the summit in being represented by its Foreign Minister rather than its President. Vladimir Putin chose to stay away, an absence the White House said “speaks for itself.”
Whether Mr. Putin would have been granted an audience with the other leaders is uncertain, but Mr. Lavrov certainly has been left out in the cold, having to snatch moments to chat with leaders on the sidelines – without the busy bilateral meeting schedule of most other attendees.
Even his news conference reflected Moscow’s self-imposed isolation: Dozens of international media outlets had gathered at his hotel, but only Russian state media were given access.
Going into the summit, multiple world leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they would use the occasion to rally more support for Ukraine, and on Monday Ottawa announced a $500-million package of additional military assistance to help that country defend “against Russia’s brutal and unjustifiable invasion.”
Indonesia resisted calls to disinvite Mr. Putin, partly because President Joko Widodo has positioned himself as a peacemaker. In June he travelled to Kyiv and Moscow to meet with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts, the first Asian leader to do so. In opening the summit here Tuesday, he told other leaders that “being responsible here means we must end the war.”
“If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward.”
Even China, Russia’s most important ally, appears to be wavering in its support. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been engaging in a flurry of diplomacy with some of Moscow’s harshest critics.
During a meeting Monday with U.S. President Joe Biden, the two men “underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” according to a readout from the White House.
Beijing has insisted its ties with Russia remain strong, but it has edged away from the tacit support it appeared to give Moscow earlier this year, and Western officials have been trying to emphasize the signs of a split between the two countries.
Roderick Kefferputz, an expert on Sino-Russian relations at the Mercator Institute on China Studies in Berlin, said that while Beijing has not fundamentally changed its public stand, Mr. Xi’s meetings and various comments at the G20 summit may be making Moscow nervous.
During a conversation with his Chinese counterpart Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov said he counted on Beijing’s “continuity” in its approach to Russia.
“When you have to say something like this, it might indicate that you’re a little concerned,” Mr. Kefferputz said.
“Everybody is talking with Xi Jinping. You know who the strong man is at the moment, and Russia is obviously in a weak position. The Russians certainly don’t like it but they will have to accept it. I mean, after all, who else do they have?”
Mr. Lavrov was set to depart Bali late Wednesday, after attending a gala dinner hosted by Mr. Widodo. It is unclear why the Russian minister will not stay for the second day of meetings.
With a file from Reuters