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Food crisis and Russia's invasion of Ukraine take centre stage at G20 meeting

The first day of the G20 foreign ministers' summit in Bali begins, marked by bilateral meetings and the controversial attendance of Russia's Sergei Lavrov
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AP/DITA ALANGKARA  -   A police officer walks past signage at the venue of the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Indonesian island paradise of Bali has this week become the epicentre of political and economic movements on the international stage. On Thursday 7 and Friday 8 July, the island will host the meeting of the foreign ministers of the G20 member countries, which will serve as a prelude to the November summit in the same city, where the top political leaders of each country will meet. 

However, the 2022 meeting has little to do with the meetings held in previous years. This "will not be a normal summit", nor will there be "normal activity", said the spokesman for the German foreign ministry, Christian Wagner, at the start of the event. The summit's kick-off was deeply marked by the war in Ukraine, and by the controversial presence of the Kremlin's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov

A divided G20?

Lavrov's attendance at the meeting - its first multilateral gathering at this level since late February - has brought to the table the bloc's divergent positions on how to deal with Moscow and its invasion of Ukraine. Powers such as the United States, the European Union, Japan and Canada have been firm in adopting sanctions against a Russian regime they accuse of committing war crimes on Ukrainian territory, while other powers, such as China, India and Indonesia itself, have avoided expressly condemning the Kremlin.

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AFP PHOTO / INDONESIA FOREIGN MINISTRY - Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (right) speaking with European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (left) during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in Nusa Dua in Bali

Against this backdrop, the first day of the summit of ministers was mainly devoted to bilateral meetings, and it will not be until tomorrow that the high-level multilateral meetings will take place

Thus, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, despite the closeness of Xi Jinping's regime to the Kremlin, but refused to meet with the Russian minister. "We would like Russia to give us a reason to meet bilaterally with Lavrov, but all we have seen is more brutality against the people of Ukraine," Washington said. That will not stop Blinken's activity from remaining active and intense, the US secretary said. 

However, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi did meet with the Kremlin representative - for the second time since the start of the war - in a meeting after which they reaffirmed their mutual interest in continuing to cooperate in the "new era" of their bilateral relations regardless of "external negative factors". Both countries are now in the spotlight of NATO, whose new Strategic Concept now sees Moscow as its "main threat" and Beijing as a "challenge". 

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PHOTO/RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY PRESS OFFICE VIA AP - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their bilateral meeting ahead of the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Thursday, July 7, 2022

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, meanwhile, has called on China to use its advantages as a "great power" and a "boundless partner" of Russia to intercede to end the conflict in Ukraine. "The world is now watching Beijing's actions on Ukraine," Wong said, echoing EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell, who also called for a "more constructive role" for the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, caught in the centre of the geopolitical conflict, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has tried to play a mediating role, and last week travelled to both Kiev and Moscow to meet with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts respectively. In his meeting with Putin, Widodo tried to convince Russia to end the blockade on grain exports. 

The importance of listening to Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine, as well as the global food and economic crisis caused by Russia's encroachment on its territory, have been at the centre of most of the talks on the Indonesian island. That is why Penny Wong stressed the importance of "Ukraine speaking to the G20, (...) including Russia, about the implications and the effect on the Ukrainian people of the consequences of the invasion"

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PHOTO/WILLY KURNIAWAN via AP - Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, left, shakes hands with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, right, during a bilateral meeting at the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Thursday, July 7, 2022

Kyiv's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, is expected to address his G20 counterparts telematically at Jakarta's invitation in the coming days. Similarly, although Ukraine is not a member of the international group, President Zelenski should also attend the November summit. Although the president has already warned that his attendance will depend on the military situation in Ukraine and Russia's presence at the meeting. 

Lavrov's participation in Bali could be a foretaste of what will happen on the Indonesian island in November, as Putin's attendance has yet to be confirmed, but - as CSIS Southeast Asia expert Murray Hiebert warns for Euronews - if so, there would be "a diplomatic train wreck". 

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PHOTO/STEFANI REYNOLDS via REUTERS - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Joint Base Andrews ahead of his trip to Bali, Indonesia, for the G20 foreign ministers' meeting, and Bangkok, Thailand, in Maryland, U.S., July 6, 2022
New famines in the making 

Looking ahead to Friday's meetings, the G20 countries - as well as the invited powers (Spain, Singapore, the Netherlands, Senegal and Ukraine) - hope to address the strengthening of multilateralism, and measures to alleviate the looming recession caused by the food and energy crises. Antonio Guterres will be present at these meetings as a guest. 

The UN has already warned of an "unprecedented famine", which was already evident in the joint report published this week by the FAO, IFAD, the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the WHO, which put the number of hungry people at more than 820 million by the end of 2021. Before the conflict and the consequences of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.  

"G20 countries must hold Russia accountable and insist that it support UN efforts to reopen sea lanes for grain supplies," US Under Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Ramin Toloui demanded as early as Tuesday.