Russia-Ukraine War Threatens to Derail Indonesia’s G20 Chairmanship

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Russia-Ukraine War Threatens to Derail Indonesia’s G20 Chairmanship

The attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin at October’s G20 summit would likely be met with a mass Western boycott.

Russia-Ukraine War Threatens to Derail Indonesia’s G20 Chairmanship

Delegates arrive at the venue of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, February 17, 2022.

Credit: Bay Ismoyo, Pool photo via AP

European nations are reportedly assessing whether to exclude Russia from the G20 grouping in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, casting a deeper shadow over Indonesia’s chairmanship of the grouping this year.

Since its troops breached the Ukrainian border on February 24, Russia has been targeted by a campaign of international sanctions unprecedented in modern times, which has sought to isolate it from the mainstream of the global economy. These include restrictions on its central bank and its exclusion from the SWIFT global bank messaging system.

According to a report by Reuters yesterday, the Polish government said that it had suggested to U.S. commerce officials that Russia be replaced within the G20 group and that it had received a “positive response” from American officials. While a U.S. Commerce Department spokesperson hedged on whether Washington would support such a move, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House, “We believe that it cannot be business as usual for Russia in international institutions and in the international community.”

Russia’s ejection from the G20 is unlikely. For one thing, there is no clear process for expelling a country from the grouping. For another, while the original G8 political forum suspended Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014, there is a good chance that one of the G20’s members, which include China, India, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, would veto such a move.

But it suggests that difficult decisions are ahead for Indonesia, which holds this year’s rotating chairmanship of the G20 and will host its headline summit in Bali in late October. The event looms as a significant one for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who is generally not known for taking a close interest in foreign affairs, but reportedly views his nation’s chairmanship of the G20 as an opportunity to raise his country’s profile on the international stage.

The Russian invasion, and the Western unity that it has galvanized, now presents Jokowi with a thorny decision: whether to disinvite Russia from this year’s meetings. As John McBeth noted recently in an article for Asia Times, if Putin is invited to the summit, “as many as 15 leaders, led by U.S. President Joe Biden, will almost certainly decide not to come rather than be in the same room with someone they detest and who is already being accused of war crimes.”

A European Union source told Reuters that there have also been discussions about Russia’s status at forthcoming meetings of the G20. “It has been made very clear to Indonesia that Russia’s presence at forthcoming ministerial meetings would be highly problematic for European countries,” the source told the news agency. At the same time, Lyudmila Vorobyov, Russia’s ambassador to Indonesia, told a news conference today that Putin intends to attend the G20 summit, describing the reaction of Western nations as “disproportional.”

This has placed Indonesia in an unenviable situation. Like much of the Global South, and most of its Southeast Asian neighbors, Indonesia has been cautious in its response to the Russian invasion. On March 2, it voted for the United Nations General Assembly resolution that deplored the Russian invasion, but its subsequent statement condemning the invasion went to great lengths not to mention Russia by name.

It has also refused to impose economic sanctions on Russia, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson stating, “We will not blindly follow the steps taken by another country.” No doubt, Indonesia’s G20 responsibilities have played into its lukewarm approach that it has taken to the war in Ukraine. The country’s officials have repeatedly said that the G20 is an economic and development forum, and that discussions about the Russia-Ukraine war would not suit the COVID-19-related “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” theme. The Ukrainian Ambassador to Indonesia, Vasyl Hamianin, has condemned Indonesia’s position, but Jakarta reportedly enjoys the backing of Chinese President Xi Jinping, suggesting that Beijing could block any attempt to suspend Russia from the G20.

But with a G20 foreign ministers meeting scheduled for June, and Western resolve over Russia only hardening in the wake of the latter’s escalating attacks on civilian populations in eastern Ukraine, it is unlikely that Jokowi’s administration can avoid a decision for much longer. In the meantime, there will be no shortage of Indonesian officials hoping and praying that Putin does them a favor and voluntarily withdraws from the summit.