Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has flown into the Indonesian island of Bali for a gathering of G20 foreign ministers, which is likely to be overshadowed by Moscow’s war in Ukraine and deep divisions within the bloc over how to respond to the crisis.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken, Lavrov and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi are all due to attend the gathering as concern among western governments mounts about the war’s impact on the cost of food and fuel, which has prompted the UN to warn of an “unprecedented wave of hunger and destitution”.
The gathering will mark the first time that Lavrov has met counterparts from nations that are strongly critical of the war.
Analysts question how much can be achieved by the G20, which is fraught with rifts over how to manage the war in Ukraine and its global impacts. While western members have accused Moscow of war crimes and imposed unprecedented sanctions, others – such as China, Indonesia, India and South Africa – have not adopted the same critical stance.
On Wednesday, Lavrov called on all parties in the world to make efforts to protect international laws, saying: “The world is evolving in a complicated manner.”
Earlier in the week, China attacked the US and Nato, stating that Washington “observes international rules only as it sees fit”. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing that the “so-called rules-based international order is actually a family rule made by a handful of countries to serve the US self-interest”.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s meeting, German foreign ministry spokesperson Christian Wagner said it would not be a “normal summit” nor “business as usual”.
Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for south-east Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, who is hosting the meeting, is likely hoping to avoid a “disastrous meeting”.
There is such a diverse range of countries and viewpoints around the table, that it is “almost unmanageable”, said Kurlantzick. “The divides are too big between some of the G20 countries to come to any conclusions really about almost anything. It’ll be miraculous simply if no one walks out, as happened during the finance ministers meeting.”
In April the UK, US and Canada staged a coordinated walkout of a G20 meeting in protest against Russia’s invasion.
Some western countries had threatened to boycott G20 meetings, but the US state department said on Tuesday that Blinken would be a “full and active participant”. There would not be a formal meeting between the US and Lavrov, it said, adding that Russian was not “serious about diplomacy”.
“We have not seen that yet,” said state department spokesperson Ned Price. “We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them, with foreign minister Lavrov, but the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine.”
Blinken will hold separate talks with Wang “to discuss having guardrails” on US-China relations so that competition “does not spill over into miscalculation or confrontation”, said US assistant secretary of state Daniel Kritenbrink.
“This will be another opportunity … to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine,” he said.
The global crisis in the cost of food and energy will feature prominently at the G20 meeting, US officials said.
Ukraine is a major supplier of sunflower oil and corn, and grows enough wheat to feed 400 million people. However, its exports have been severely disrupted by the Russian invasion and Moscow’s blockade of its sea lanes.
Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is widely known, recently visited both Ukraine and Russia, calling for measures to allow for the resumption of exports – which Indonesia, like many nations, relies upon heavily.
Indonesia maintains an “independent and active” approach to foreign policy, and has sought to appear as a neutral actor that could aid negotiations.
Jokowi is likely hoping “to show himself as a world leader and to simply avoid a disastrous meeting”, said Kurlantzick.
“He probably hopes for some kind of situation in which no one walks out of the meeting, he avoids a complete disaster, and he helps keep dialogue going between all the various actors, perhaps with one goal being to get Russia to begin exporting grain again to many countries, maybe they can achieve some other minor goal as well,” Kurlantzick added.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report