Liz Truss has cut short her attendance at a critical G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia to fly back to London to canvass support for her bid to succeed Boris Johnson as the UK’s prime minister.
Her decision raised eyebrows among some diplomats who see the G20 meeting as a key moment for the west to confront the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, for the first time over the invasion of Ukraine – an issue on which she has been a hawk.
The foreign secretary’s move is also likely to unnerve central European allies who do not want to see the British government destabilised and distracted at such a critical and difficult moment in the Ukraine war.
Truss’s allies will argue that the US and other western powers will be more than capable of taking the argument to Russia at the G20. It is widely accepted that Russia has made more progress than the west anticipated in gaining tacit support or neutrality from some of the major G20 powers, such as India and Saudi Arabia.
Lavrov met the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on the margins of the G20 to discuss the grain blockade of Ukraine and proposals for a convoy of ships to be allowed to take Ukrainian grain out of Odesa harbour. The plan has been stuck due to disputes centred on Russia’s demands for western sanctions to be lifted. Turkey is being pressed to seize ships that are allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain.
The early departure of Truss from Bali may also underline that she realises she has work to do among backbench Tory MPs who will decide through their nominations the final two candidates in the leadership race. An early YouGov poll of Conservative members shows Truss losing by two to one to the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, in a runoff.
The flight from Indonesia will take as long as 18 hours so she will not return to the thick of Westminster politics until the weekend.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is hoping to use the G20 to confront China over its support for Russia on the Ukraine issue.