Russia's place in G20 club in question after Ukraine invasion

Germany says diplomacy with Moscow cannot return to normal

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the G20 summit by videoconference from Moscow last year. AP
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After Crimea was annexed in 2014, the G8 expelled Russia and became the G7. Could the G20 now do the same thing and become the G19 after the invasion of Ukraine?

Christian Lindner, the German finance minister who chaired talks on Ukraine with his G7 counterparts this week, said there was a consensus that international diplomacy with Russia could not return to business as usual.

Asked about the G20, he said it was “hardly imaginable” that Russian representatives could sit next to western diplomats at international summits “as if nothing has happened”.

But any decision on the G20 would, as Mr Lindner said, be above the pay grade of finance ministers and require agreement from world leaders in a club that goes well beyond the western-aligned democracies of the G7.

One of those leaders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, signalled he was open to expelling Russian ministers from the G20.

“They have self-selected themselves as a pariah state and that's how they should be known all around the world, and no one should have anything to do with them, frankly,” Mr Morrison said.

Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to Nato, wrote in an opinion piece that there was “no place for Russia in the G20” and that other formal talks should be suspended, but some diplomatic channels kept open.

Russia is the world’s 11th-richest country and President Vladimir Putin took part in discussions at last year’s summit on the world economy, the coronavirus pandemic and international development.

Shortly before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia and China watered down a G20 finance leaders’ statement on geopolitical risks by deleting a reference to “current tensions”.

But Russia is now under sanctions by many of those G20 countries, in a punitive package which UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as the biggest ever imposed against a member of that club.

European diplomats walked out of a human rights summit in Geneva this week after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is now under personal sanctions by western countries, took the microphone.

However, Russia has more potential allies in the G20 than in the G7. That became clear in a similar debate which arose in 2014, when Australia chaired the G20 in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

At that time, calls to exclude Russia from the G20 ran into opposition from its allies in the so-called BRICS group of countries, namely Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

Those countries and Russia issued a statement saying the G20 “belongs to all member states equally” and that the host country had no right to take unilateral actions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did attend the summit in Brisbane but left early after being harangued by world leaders about his country’s behaviour.

The BRICS group could prove an ally again for Mr Putin this year. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said his country would not take sides over Ukraine, while China and India abstained in a UN Security Council vote on the crisis.

South Africa called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine but held out hope for a diplomatic solution to address Moscow’s security concerns.

Indonesia, which holds the G20 presidency this year, said the attack on Ukraine was unacceptable but has not moved to impose sanctions on Russia.

The G20 has no permanent staff and some of Indonesia’s workload is shared by previous and subsequent presidents, in this case Italy and India. The main leaders’ summit is scheduled to take place in Bali, Indonesia, in November.

Updated: March 02, 2022, 2:21 PM