G20 host calls for end to Ukraine war as Russia dismisses criticism

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G20 host Indonesia urged foreign ministers of the group on Friday to help end the war in Ukraine, as Russia’s top diplomat accused the West of scuppering a chance to tackle global economic issues with “frenzied” criticism of the conflict.

The G20 ministers’ meeting in Bali has been overshadowed by the war and its impact on the global economy, with top officials from Western countries and Japan stressing it would not be a “business as usual” event.

Shouts of “When will you stop the war” and “Why don’t you stop the war” were heard as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shook hands with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi as he arrived for the meeting.

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Lavrov said ministers from Western nations “strayed almost immediately, as soon as they took the floor, to the frenzied criticism of the Russian Federation in connection with the situation in Ukraine.”

“‘Aggressors,’ ‘'invaders,’ ‘occupiers’ - we heard a lot of things today,” Lavrov told reporters after the first session of the talks, in which he was seated between representatives from Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Russia has maintained it has launched a “special military operation” to degrade the Ukrainian military and root out people it calls dangerous nationalists.

Ukraine and its Western backers say Russia is engaged in an imperial-style land grab. They say Russia has no justification for the invasion.

Retno had called on the G20 to “find a way forward” to address global challenges and said the repercussions of the war, including rising energy and food prices, would hit low-income countries the hardest.

“It is our responsibility to end the war sooner than later and settle our differences at the negotiating table, not at the battlefield,” Retno said at the opening of talks.

Challenges related to rising food and energy costs had been “dramatically exacerbated by Russian aggression against Ukraine,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on the sidelines of the meeting.

During the plenary meeting, Blinken confronted Russia about blocking the export of Ukrainian grain and stealing it, a Western official said.

“He addressed Russia directly, saying: To our Russian colleagues: ‘Ukraine is not your country. Its grain is not your grain. Why are you blocking the ports? You should let the grain out,’” the official said.

Lavrov was not in the room at the time, the official said.

Ukraine has struggled to export goods, with many of its ports blocked as war rages along its southern coast. It is the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter.

Lavrov told reporters later Russia was ready to negotiate with Ukraine and Turkey about grain but it is unclear when such talks might take place.

‘New Cold War’

Ukraine’s foreign minister addressed the meeting virtually, with Lavrov leaving the room during his speech, Ukraine’s ambassador to Indonesia said.

Underlining tensions in the lead-up to the meeting, Retno said G7 counterparts had informed her they could not join Thursday’s welcome dinner where Lavrov was present.

A senior official for the Indonesian foreign ministry told Reuters no communique was expected from Friday’s meeting.

Retno had said it was important the host “create an atmosphere that’s comfortable for everybody,” noting it was the first time since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine that all major players were sitting in the same room.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on the sidelines of the meeting Beijing opposed any act of hyping up bloc confrontation, and creating a “new Cold War.”

Friday’s agenda includes the closed-door meeting of top diplomats from G20 countries including China, India, the United States, Brazil, Canada, Japan and South Africa, as well as bilateral talks on the sidelines.

For the first time in three years, the Chinese and Australian foreign ministers will also hold talks on Friday, signaling a thaw in relations that has soured over claims of foreign interference and retaliatory trade sanctions.

Absent from Friday’s events was British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was represented by Tim Barrow, second permanent under-secretary at the foreign office. Truss had cut her Bali trip short after the resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, media reports said.

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