Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stayed in the room during a virtual address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to a Group of 20 summit, before firing back with a litany of often-made but unsubstantiated accusations, people familiar with the matter said.
The speeches were a prominent fixture of the first session of the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, that began Tuesday, and signalled how tensions and fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are hanging over the bloc.
Zelensky, in his address, appealed for support from what he called G19 nations -- a pointed reference to the group without Russia. While the number of people in the room varies during sessions, it was virtually full for Zelensky, with Lavrov among the audience, the people said.
Lavrov, attending in place of President Vladimir Putin, then took his turn to speak, but said he had also to respond to Zelensky. He repeated Putin’s argument justifying the Feb 24 invasion that Russia was fighting neo-Nazis in Ukraine, people said, even as the Kremlin has repeatedly failed to show evidence for its claims.
The room was full for Lavrov’s speech, with no mass walkout -- something of a rhetorical victory for Russia. But the reaction was muted in the room, the people said, suggesting other world leaders are tiring of the bombast with Russia’s war now in its ninth month.
There have been walkouts in protest by Ukraine’s allies at previous international gatherings where Russian officials have spoken.
Negotiators for the G20 meeting have cobbled a draft communique that includes language noting “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering.” The declaration though avoids calling it Russia’s war. Moscow refuses to call its actions an invasion but rather a “special military operation”.
Zelensky, in his remarks, confirmed Ukraine is working with supporter nations to fund new shipments of grain around the anniversary of the 1930s Holodomor famine -- a symbolic push that comes amid discussions to extend a deal that allows grain exports from its war-stricken ports.
In his address, Zelensky called on all countries – “and in particular your countries, dear G19 leaders – to join our initiative to help the poorest with food,” according to a person familiar with his remarks.
The Russian invasion has hung over the G20 leaders’ sessions, which were founded in 2008 to address the financial crisis. The potential for an impasse has cast doubt on the longevity of the bloc, though negotiators were nearing an agreement on the communique -- a signal of resiliency and a victory for host Indonesia, which had sought to bridge tensions as much as possible.