Blinken, Lavrov speak amid war of words over Ukraine at G20 meet

Published March 2, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi on March 2, 2023. — Reuters
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi on March 2, 2023. — Reuters

The United States and its European allies sparred with Russia over the war in Ukraine at a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in New Delhi on Thursday, with the rival sides each accusing the other of destabilising the world.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a brief encounter on the meeting’s sidelines during which Blinken urged Russia to reverse its decision on the New START nuclear treaty, a senior US official said.

Blinken also told Lavrov that Washington was prepared to support Ukraine to defend itself for as long as it takes, the official said.

The two spoke for less than 10 minutes in what is believed to be their first one-on-one conversation in person since before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“We always remain hopeful that the Russians will reverse their decision and be prepared to engage in a diplomatic process that can lead to a just and durable peace, but I wouldn’t say that coming out of this encounter there was any expectation that things will change in the near term,” the US official said.

Blinken, the official added, wanted to “disabuse the Russians of any notion that our support (for Ukraine) might be wavering or the support from our allies and partners might be wavering”.

The Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov and Blinken spoke “on the move” but did not hold negotiations or a meeting, Russian news agencies reported.

News of the exchange came at the end of the day-long G20 meeting which was overshadowed by the Ukraine war.

The United States and its European allies urged the Group of 20 (G20) nations to keep up pressure on Moscow to end the conflict, now in its second year.

Russia hit back, accusing the West of turning work on the G20 agenda into a “farce” and said Western delegations wanted to shift responsibility for their economic failures onto Moscow.

Pressure Russia

“We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability,” Blinken said in remarks released after his address at the closed-door meeting.

“Unfortunately, this meeting has again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine,” Blinken said.

He was backed by his counterparts from Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

“Unfortunately, one G20 member prevents all the other 19 from focusing all their efforts on these issues the G20 was created for,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the meeting, according to the German delegation.

Baerbock, addressing Lavrov, urged the Kremlin to return to full implementation of the New START nuclear arms treaty and to resume dialogue with the United States.

“The threat of nuclear weapons should be opposed,” she said.

President Vladimir Putin last week announced Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the latest START treaty, after accusing the West — without providing evidence — of being directly involved in attempts to strike its strategic air bases.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking at a UN conference in Geneva, said the United States had attempted “to probe the security of Russian strategic facilities declared under the New START Treaty by assisting the Kyiv regime in conducting armed attacks against them”.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said the war in Ukraine had hurt “almost every country on the planet, in terms of food, energy, inflation”. Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra told CNBC that Russia was solely responsible for the war and must continue to be sanctioned.

‘Farce’

Russia’s Lavrov, however, blamed the West for the global political and economic crises.

“A number of Western delegations turned the work on the G20 agenda into a farce, wanting to shift the responsibility for their failures in the economy to the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said, according to a Russian statement.

He said the West had created obstacles to the export of Russian agricultural products.

He accused it of “shamelessly burying” the Black Sea grain initiative that facilitates the export of Ukraine’s agricultural products from its southern ports, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The G20 includes the rich G7 nations as well as Russia, China, India, Brazil, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, among other countries.

India, which holds the bloc’s presidency this year, has sought to highlight the economic impact of the war as well as issues such as climate change and poorer countries’ debt.

But New Delhi’s efforts to bridge differences and produce a joint statement or a communique stumbled due to differences over the war. The meeting produced an “outcome document” instead.

India has declined to blame Russia for the war and has sought a diplomatic solution while boosting its purchases of Russian oil.

“There were differences on the Ukraine issue which we could not reconcile between various parties who held differing positions,” Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told reporters at the end of the meeting.

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