220708 Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives to attend the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, July 8, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Bali: The Group of 20 foreign ministers met in Indonesia on Friday with the top envoys from the United States and Russia attending, their first gathering since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov joined their colleagues for the start of day-long talks, with Washington seeking to gain support from the world’s top economies to pressure Moscow over the invasion of its neighbour.

“It clearly cannot be business as usual when it comes to Russia’s involvement and engagement in enterprises like the G20,” a senior US official said ahead of the meeting.

In comments to open the meeting on the resort island of Bali, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi directly addressed the war.

“It is our responsibility to end the war sooner than later and settle our differences at the negotiating table, not the battlefield,” Marsudi said, with Lavrov in the room.

While in Bali, Blinken will also seek to reopen dialogue with Beijing in talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, the first in months after tensions strained over issues including Taiwan.

The G20 meeting is looking to tackle the war’s impact on food and energy security, as well as the global economy’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the ravages of climate change.

But Blinken will shun a direct meeting with Lavrov, instead pointing the finger at Moscow for triggering global food and energy crises.

However the US official indicated Washington did not want to embarrass Indonesia.

The hosts have addressed US concerns about Lavrov attending in part by inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the G20 summit later this year and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to Friday’s meet.

“It’s very important to us that the we focus on the G20 agenda,” the US official said.

Blinken arrived at the Mulia hotel on the palm-fringed island on Friday where he could be seen talking with South Africa’s foreign minister before entering the same room as Lavrov, who he last met in January.

Russia’s top diplomat was seated between the Saudi Arabian and Mexican foreign ministers as the meeting began.

Friday’s meeting is a prelude to the leaders’ summit on Bali in November that is meant to focus on the global recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

But attention has instead shifted to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has rattled global markets, sent food prices skyrocketing and led to allegations of Russian war crimes.

The US State Department declined to comment on the “choreography” in Bali or whether Blinken would walk out of any meetings where Lavrov is present.

But there will be no family photo of the G20 ministers as is customary, an Indonesian government official told AFP.

British FM leaves

Blinken’s efforts to have a powerful Western stance against Russia at the G20 were diluted after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who had pushed a tough line on Moscow’s invasion — resigned as leader of the Conservative party on Thursday.

It prompted British Foreign Minister Liz Truss to cut short her Bali trip and pull out of Friday’s meeting. She flew out of Bali on Friday morning, a British official told AFP.

The talks between Blinken and Wang on Saturday — their first since October — will seek to address tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

A top US official for East Asia said the pair would discuss “guardrails” on competition but said Blinken — who recently identified Beijing as the main threat to world order — would also explore areas of cooperation.

The meeting comes as US President Joe Biden voices hope for a conversation in the coming weeks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom he last spoke in March.

Lavrov met Wang on Thursday to discuss Russia’s invasion, which Moscow says it launched to stop Ukraine from joining the NATO military alliance.

Lavrov told Wang that Russia’s position on Ukraine is finding support from “an increasing number” of countries.

The United States has condemned Beijing’s support for Russia and Blinken is expected to reiterate those warnings in talks with Wang.