UK's Rishi Sunak and Canadian counterpart walk out of IMF meeting in Russia protest

Russia's finance minister was told the war is causing food prices to rise and leaving people hungry

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak walks outside of the International Monetary Fund building in Washington. AP Photo

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Britain and Canada have led a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine at an International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington.

The UK's Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland walked out of the meeting when Russia's delegate spoke on Thursday, a British Finance Ministry representative said.

Before walking out, Mr Sunak "described [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's assault on Ukraine as an assault on the rules and norms that are the foundation of our economic way of life", the representative said.

Mr Sunak is in the US only days after he faced enormous pressure on his position and future political ambitions – over being fined for breaching Covid rules alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the disclosure of his wife's non-domiciled tax status and his own previous possession of a US green card while running the UK's Treasury.

After Canada's Ms Freeland returned to the meeting, she directly addressed Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, who was attending virtually, a source familiar with what happened in the meeting room said.

"It is perverse and absurd to hear you speaking today when your war is making us poorer," she said, according to a Reuters source.

"Your war is causing food prices to rise and will cause people to go hungry. Your war is causing energy prices to rise. Your war is driving inflation, which hurts the most vulnerable."

Canada's Finance Ministry has declined to comment.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, who walked out of a G20 meeting in Washington on Wednesday for the same reason, said on Thursday there should be "no appeasement" of Russia due to the economic problems caused by the invasion of Ukraine.

The G20 includes western countries that have accused Moscow of war crimes in Ukraine, as well as China, India, Indonesia and South Africa, which have not joined western-led sanctions against Russia over the conflict.

G20 finance ministers and central bank governors met on the sidelines of the conference held by the IMF and World Bank in Washington, with the Ukraine war, food security and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic the crucial topics.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" that it says is not designed to occupy territory, but to destroy its southern neighbour's military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

Ms Freeland, who is of Ukrainian descent and has made impassioned pleas on behalf of the country, went on to speak about how women were "the particular targets of this war".

"Rape is being used systematically as a weapon of war by Russia," Ms Freeland said, according to the source.

Addressing Mr Siluanov by name, she concluded by saying Ukraine would win the war and "Russia and the Russian leadership will bear full responsibility for the crimes being committed today".

Earlier on Thursday, Britain stepped up trade sanctions on Russia, aimed at luxury goods including caviar, silver and diamonds through import bans and higher tariffs, seeking to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 7:23 AM
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