G20 foreign ministers called for an end to the war and grain blockade in Ukraine on Friday, as Russia’s top diplomat walked out of a meeting and denounced the West for “frenzied criticism” and squandering a chance to tackle global economic problems.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on food security and energy dominated the closed-door gathering on the Indonesian island of Bali, which ended with no joint statement, and no announcements of any agreements being reached.
The forum was the first face-to-face meeting between Russia and the fiercest critics of its war.
The spotlight was firmly on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose arrival at Friday’s meeting was met by shouts of “When will you stop the war” and “Why don’t you stop the war” as he was greeted by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
Lavrov emerged from the first session with a stiff rebuke of Western counterparts who he said “strayed almost immediately” from the topics of discussion “to the frenzied criticism of the Russian Federation”.
“Aggressors’, ‘invaders’, ‘occupiers’ — we heard a lot of things today,” Lavrov told reporters.
In the following session, Lavrov read a statement then left, without hearing others, according to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who described the action as “not very respectful”.
Lavrov had on Thursday attended a welcome reception where no G7 ministers were present.
Russia calls the war a “special military operation” to degrade the Ukrainian military and root out people it calls dangerous nationalists.
Ukraine and its Western backers say Russia is engaged in an imperial-style land grab with no justification for its invasion.
“This was not a warm bath for Lavrov,” said a Western official who attended the meeting, adding there were some “very forceful remarks” against Russia’s invasion and a consensus for the need to end its blockade of Ukrainian grain exports.
Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke directly with each other while in the meeting room, said Indonesia’s Retno, who chaired the forum. She did not say what they discussed.
Blinken on the sidelines of the meeting said challenges from rising food and energy costs had been “dramatically exacerbated by Russian aggression”.
He told delegates that for the G20 to stay relevant, it must hold Russia accountable, according to a senior State Department official.
Ukraine, the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter, has struggled to export goods, with many of its ports blocked as war rages along its southern coast.
Lavrov told reporters later that Russia was ready to negotiate with Ukraine and Turkey about grain, but it is unclear when such talks might take place.
Meetings were overshadowed by the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which Blinken described as “profoundly disturbing”, expressing shock over the death of “a leader with great vision”.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters Abe was “a giant on the world stage” with a legacy of global impact.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed the meeting virtually, accusing Russia of playing “hunger games” through its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea port.
“We have no right to allow Russia to further blackmail the world through high energy prices, hunger, and security threats,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier that Beijing opposed any act of hyping up bloc confrontation and creating a “new Cold War”.
He had talks with Wong on Friday in the first such meeting between China and Australia in three years, which Wong described as “an important first step” towards stabilising relations.
Ties have soured over claims of foreign interference and retaliatory trade sanctions.
In closing remarks, Indonesia’s Retno said the G20 gathering showed an urgent need to strengthen multilateralism and it was important that despite global challenges, foreign ministers could still meet in the same room.
“The decision of members and invitees to attend the meeting in person are not to be taken lightly,” she said.
“They chose to make an extra effort to be here.”