G-20 Leaders End Summit Condemning Russia Despite Divisions

G-20 Leaders End Summit Condemning Russia Despite Divisions
U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz greet each other during the first working session of the G20 leaders' summit in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, on Nov. 15, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

NUSA DUA, Indonesia—Members of the Group of 20 leading economies ended their summit Wednesday with a declaration of firm condemnation of the war in Ukraine and a warning that the conflict is making an already delicate world economy worse.

The summit’s closing statement was noteworthy because world leaders managed to highlight a denunciation of the war despite the divisions among the group, which includes not only Russia but also countries such as China and India that have significant trade ties with Moscow and have stopped short of outright criticism of the war.

“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” the statement said.

The use of the words “most members” was a telling sign of the divisions, as was an acknowledgement that “there were other views and different assessments” and that the G-20 is “not the forum to resolve security issues.”

Even so, the statement’s use of language from a March U.N. resolution that deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” and demanded “its complete and unconditional withdrawal” from Ukrainian territory was a “big breakthrough,” according to John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Group.

“Here the G-20 left no doubt about who it knew had started the war and how it should end,” he said in an interview. He noted an “active shift” by China and India, which joined the “democratic side of the great immediate geopolitical divide.”

The conflict in Ukraine loomed large over the two-day summit held on the tropical island of Bali in Indonesia.

News early Wednesday of an explosion that rocked eastern Poland prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to hastily arrange an emergency meeting with G-7 and NATO members at the summit. Biden said it was “unlikely” Russia fired the missile but added: “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.”

Poland and NATO’s head said later Wednesday the missile strike appeared to be unintentional and was probably launched by air defenses in Ukraine as Russia was bombarding the country in an attack that savaged its power grid. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, disputed the preliminary findings and asked for further investigation. Russia denied involvement.

Biden was joined at the G-20 by leaders including Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend.

On Tuesday, Russia pounded Ukrainian cities with dozens of missile strikes in its biggest barrage yet on the country’s energy facilities, which have been repeatedly struck as winter approaches.

Sunak, speaking to reporters at the close of the meeting, called the attacks “the cruel and unrelenting reality of Putin’s war.”

“While other world leaders were working together to tackle the greatest challenges our people face, Putin was launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Ukraine,” Sunak said.

The war, he added, will “continue to devastate the global economy.”

The careful wording of the final G-20 statement reflected tensions at the gathering and the challenge faced by the United States and its allies as they try to isolate Putin’s government. Several G-20 members, including host Indonesia, are wary of becoming entangled in disputes between bigger powers.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters that the portion of the declaration dealing with the war was the most contentious part of the negotiations and that discussions were “very, very tough.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the G-20 summit’s “surprisingly clear words” on Ukraine “wouldn’t have been possible if important countries hadn’t helped us to come together this way—that includes India and it also includes, for example, South Africa.”

“This is something which shows that there are many in the world who don’t think this war is right, who condemn it, even if they abstained in the votes at the United Nations for various reasons,” Scholz said. “And I am sure that this is one of the results of this summit: the Russian president stands almost alone in the world with his policy.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who led the Russian delegation in place of Putin, denounced the Biden administration push to condemn Moscow.

China’s support for a public statement critical of Russia surprised some.

The G-20 was founded in 1999 originally as a forum to address economic challenges. It includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. Spain holds a permanent guest seat.

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