Friday, 12 August, 2022
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Lavrov walks out of G20 talks as West presses Moscow on Ukraine

Lavrov walks out of G20 talks as West presses Moscow on Ukraine

BALI: Russia's top diplomat stormed out of talks with G20 foreign ministers meeting in Indonesia on Friday as Western powers criticised Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, reports AFP.

Washington and allies condemned Russia's assault ahead of the meeting before Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov faced what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called a barrage of Western criticism at the closed-door talks.

"What we've heard today already is a strong chorus from around the world... about the need for the aggression to end," Blinken said from the meeting on the resort island of Bali.

Blinken and Lavrov had joined colleagues for day-long talks in their first meeting since the outbreak of war, with the host immediately telling them the conflict must end through negotiations.

But Lavrov walked out of a morning session as German counterpart Annalena Baerbock criticised Moscow over its invasion, diplomats said.

He also left an afternoon session before Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed the ministers virtually and was not present as Blinken condemned Russia.

"Russia was so isolated that Lavrov left the conference at midday after speaking," French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said in an interview with AFP.

"There was not a state to defend the Russian attitude, to subscribe to the Russian logic."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told AFP Lavrov "wasn't listening to others" in the meeting.

"That's not the most constructive way to attend a G20 meeting," he said.

Western diplomats said Lavrov heard no unambiguous support during the session, even from nations that do not staunchly back the US and European position on Ukraine.

"I think Russia was surprised by how many G20 participants made forceful statements about Russian aggression," a Western official said on condition of anonymity.

Another Western official predicted President Vladimir Putin would think twice about attending the summit later this year after the criticism faced by Lavrov.

- Abe killing overshadows meet -

Speaking outside the Mulia hotel, Lavrov remained defiant and accused Western nations of avoiding "talking about global economic issues" instead of the war.

"From the moment they speak, they launch into fevered criticism of Russia," he told reporters.

Blinken shunned a bilateral meeting with Lavrov and instead accused Russia of triggering a global food crisis, demanding Moscow allow grain shipments out of war-battered Ukraine.

"To our Russian colleagues: Ukraine is not your country. Its grain is not your grain. Why are you blocking the ports? You should let the grain out," Blinken said in the closed-door talks, according to a Western official present.

Lavrov earlier told reporters he would not "go running" after Washington for talks.

"It was not us who abandoned contact, it was the United States," he said.

Before the meeting, Blinken sat down with his French and German counterparts and a senior British official to discuss "Russia's unprovoked and unjustifiable war of choice" in Ukraine, the State Department said in a statement.

But the gathering was soon overshadowed by the killing of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a campaign event on Friday.

After news of Abe's death emerged, Blinken mourned the longtime ally of Washington as a "leader with great vision" who boosted US-Japan relations.

"It is a shock. It's profoundly disturbing," he said.

- No family photo -

In closing remarks, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said "participants expressed deep concern about the humanitarian impacts of the war" in Ukraine, and "some members expressed condemnation" of the invasion.

A US official indicated Washington did not want to embarrass Indonesia at the meeting by walking out on Lavrov, who last met Blinken in July.

But there was no family photo of the G20 ministers as is customary.

The hosts have addressed US concerns about Lavrov attending in part by inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the G20 summit in November.

In his address on Friday, Ukraine's Kuleba told ministers to "remember about 344 families who have lost their children when listening to Russian lies".

- British FM leaves -

Blinken's efforts to have a powerful Western stance against Russia at the meeting were diluted after British Foreign Minister Liz Truss pulled out following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's resignation as leader of his party on Thursday.

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

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.

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