At the table with the warlord? The G20 and the critical management of Russia

Updated on 04/18/2022 at 16:53

  • When Valdimir Putin took Crimea, the G8 became the G7.
  • However, Russia is still a member of the “Group of 20”.
  • How do industrialized and emerging countries deal with this and can they tolerate a belligerent country being seated at the table?

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For the first time since the Russian attack on Ukraine, the ministers of the “Group of 20”, the main industrialized and emerging countries of the world, are meeting this week in Washington. Russia is also a member – which raises the difficult question of how to treat the belligerent country at international summits. Can the G20 tolerate the Russian finance minister sitting next to his colleagues at the table or at least participating virtually as if nothing had happened?

The economic consequences of the war in Ukraine – skyrocketing inflation, tough sanctions and an energy crisis – will keep finance ministers busy in the US capital. They are meeting on the sidelines of the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where the immense impact on food supplies in developing countries is likely to be a topic. Normally, the G20 speaks with one voice after such meetings – but is that possible if the country that caused all the suffering also has a say?

In February, even before the start of the war, the finance ministers of the G20 had struggled to find clear words on the conflict that was looming. In the final document of their meeting, they only said that they wanted to continue monitoring the risks linked to geopolitical tensions. There was a clear discussion in the cycle, said Finance Minister Christian Lindner – but this does not appear in the statement.

This is not the case with the finance ministers of the G7, of which Russia is not a member: they have announced a vigorous response and swift sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine.

Deep gap between the West and Russia

The longer the war lasts and the more the atrocities are known, the more the gap between the West and Russia widens. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already made it clear that the US intends to boycott certain G20 meetings when Russian representatives attend.

Canada also stresses that Russia cannot currently be a constructive G20 partner. Germany is keeping a low profile, but there are signs that it does not want its own behavior indirectly dictated by Russia.

Indonesia chairs the G20 – and has invited all members

Meeting invitations are in the hands of Indonesia, which currently chairs the G20. A representative of the local finance ministry told the German news agency that Indonesia had invited all G20 members to the finance ministers’ meeting – and that each of them had the right to attend. According to the registration list, 42 delegations wanted to travel to Washington, while others wanted to participate virtually. According to dpa information, it can currently be assumed that Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov will go online digitally.

It would at least take away some of the explosiveness of the meeting in Washington. As well as the possibility of giving up a common final document, so that in the end you do not have to formulate a common line with Russia. Another level of escalation could be to allow Siluanov to participate, but not allow him to speak.

The Russian question will undoubtedly be more difficult to decide during the meeting of heads of state and government in mid-November on the tourist island of Bali. President Vladimir Putin seems to want to attend in person, regardless of the war. Canadian President Justin Trudeau told local media that it would be “extremely difficult for us and unproductive for the G20” to sit down at a table with Putin. You can’t pretend that everything is fine.

Excluding Russia is considered very unrealistic

US President Joe Biden would like to exclude Putin, whom he describes as a war criminal, from the “Group of 20”. If that doesn’t happen, Ukraine should at least be invited to the circle, he said in March. Australia is also strictly opposed to Putin’s participation in the summit.

An exclusion, however, is considered highly unrealistic. In German government circles, it is pointed out that the G20 also includes countries that are neutral in the conflict. China, India and South Africa abstained in the United Nations vote on a resolution condemning the war in Ukraine. China has also come out against the exclusion of Russia. The Bali summit will mainly deal with economic issues, and the meeting should “not be politicized”, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, according to the Beijing Foreign Ministry.

So far, the Kremlin has reacted demonstratively and calmly

And Russia itself? So far, the Kremlin has reacted demonstratively and calmly. Most G20 members are currently waging an economic war against Russia anyway, so an exclusion is “not fatal”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Tass news agency.

Russia was kicked out of the international group of largest economies in 2014 after capturing Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Since then, the G8 is nothing more than the G7.

This makes things much easier for the German government. Indeed, Germany is organizing the G7 summit of heads of state and government this summer at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria. The question of whether to relieve Russia no longer arises here. (dpa/mbo)


The US intelligence service CIA has warned that Russia could use smaller nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine. Faced with “possible desperation” over military “failures”, Russian President Vladimir Putin could order it, CIA Director William Burns has said. (AFP)

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