Indonesia pushed to ask Ukraine to G-20 summit alongside Putin

Indonesia pushed to ask Ukraine to G-20 summit alongside Putin

In this image provided by the US Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday in Kyiv, Ukraine. (AFP)
In this image provided by the US Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday in Kyiv, Ukraine. (AFP)

The US is among nations pressing Indonesia to include Ukraine as a guest at the Group of 20 summit in November, frustrated at Jakarta’s refusal to withdraw an invitation for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The shift in tactics shows the diplomatic wrangling confronting Indonesia as G-20 hosts this year, and the dilemma for member states including the US given Putin’s war in Ukraine, now entering its third month. Russia is a member of the G-20, alongside countries like China and India, which have not joined sanctions on Moscow for its aggression.

The US and some other Group of Seven members are now asking Jakarta, which has said it wants to “remain impartial” as rotating chair of the G-20, to extend an invitation for President Volodymyr Zelensky to attend at least some of the meeting, according to officials familiar with the matter. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The host country traditionally invites a number of nations to join some aspects of the summit as observers, though they don’t tend to sit in on the formal discussions.

Including Zelensky would make it even more of a logistical and diplomatic nightmare for Indonesia if Putin decided to attend the summit on the tropical island of Bali in person. And it’s unclear if adding Ukraine would be enough to guarantee other leaders show up. At least some, including US President Joe Biden, would not sit at the same table as Putin either way, the people said. It’s unclear whether or how Indonesia could engineer a summit to allow Putin and Biden to avoid crossing paths. 

The US is among those supporting Russia’s removal from the G-20 entirely, though other countries including China oppose such a move. Russia was evicted from the smaller Group of Eight after Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

It’s still possible some leaders simply opt to stay away entirely or send a lower-level delegation. Equally it’s unlikely the Russian president would take part in any events where Zelensky was also present. 

So far Putin has declined to meet with Zelensky even as the Ukrainian leader says it’s the only way to end the war. Talks for a temporary cease-fire have struggled for traction and there’s been no discernible progress on a broader peace deal.

Biden already said last month that if Indonesia did not exclude Russia from the G-20 summit it should at least invite Ukraine to attend some meetings. One official familiar with the discussions said that message is now being reinforced behind closed doors.

Indonesia is still working out its position, according to another official, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential matters. The summit is months away and the government would prefer to wait and see. There’s been no decision yet on inviting Ukraine to the November summit, the person added. 

Putin hasn’t decided yet whether to take part in the summit, according to another official with knowledge of the issue. The Russian leader is also waiting to see how the situation evolves through the next few months. It’s possible if he does attend he may only do so virtually.

Indonesian foreign ministry official and G-20 co-sherpa, Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

One concern is that inviting Zelensky means the entire summit becomes dominated by the conflict, an official said. That limits the scope for discussion on other matters including climate change and poverty. A diplomat from a G-7 country said the chances of the G-20 making any substantive progress on other issues were extremely limited and that such dim prospects were likely to extend to future summits.

The complexities were already on show at G-20 and International Monetary Fund gatherings in Washington last week attended by finance ministers and central bank chiefs. At several events, officials from countries including the US walked out when a Russian attendee began speaking. There was no overall communique issued.

Afterward Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the protest against Russia’s participation was understandable, but added she’s confident that differences over the war won’t hinder G-20 cooperation.

“The G-20 continues as a premier forum for all of us to continue to discuss and talk about all of the issues,” she said. “I think we are going to be able to overcome the challenging tasks that we are facing today.”

Indonesia has already sent an invitation to Ukraine to speak at one of the gatherings this year about the impact of the war on the global economy and what the G-20 can do to support Ukraine’s economy in turn. Such a speech could happen potentially when finance chiefs meet in July, in Bali. It’s also possible a Ukrainian official could address one of the interim meetings by video conference.

G-7 nations are still working on a unified position on how they would handle a potential presence from Russia in November, according to people familiar with recent discussions. That includes the potential for the summit to end without a communique. 

Still, some leaders are concerned about creating north-south splits within the G-20 and that outright boycotts could leave the stage to the Russian president.

Although G-7 nations including the US, U.K., France and Germany have imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, few other countries have joined those efforts –- and many governments in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East remain reluctant to do so.

The seven governments have been coordinating efforts to engage other G-20 members and beyond. One focus is on countering Russian disinformation operations that aim to blame western sanctions for rising food prices, the people said. The war has disrupted crucial supplies of crops like wheat from Ukraine.

The governments are also working to forge closer trade ties with members of the broader group, such as India, and trying to get others on board with their efforts to impede Moscow from circumventing sanctions.

Two people familiar with the conversations said in recent meetings of finance officials, developed countries used chunks of alloted time to condemn Russia before moving onto other matters. Developing countries mostly spoke only on the broader agenda.

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