Lavrov steps out of G20 talks after denying Russia is causing food crisis | G20

Russia’s foreign minister left the G20 meeting of leading economies early after telling his colleagues that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not responsible for a global hunger crisis and that sanctions to isolate Russia amounted to a declaration of war.

Friday’s meeting marked Sergei Lavrov’s first direct confrontation with leaders from the west since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, and he accused the west of frantic criticism of what he believes were Moscow’s justified actions.

In a stern, if brief, lecture at the Bali meeting hosted by Indonesia, this year’s G20 president, Lavrov said: “If the west doesn’t want talks to take place, but wants Ukraine to beat Russia on the battlefield — because both opinions have been expressed – then there may be nothing to talk about with the west.”

The veteran Russian diplomat, who sat at the meeting between Saudi Arabia and Mexico, also accused the west of pressuring Ukraine to “use its weapons” in the fighting. He was walking outside when the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, began to speak.

Baerbock later said: “The fact that… [Lavrov] has spent a large part of the negotiations not in, but outside the room, underlines that there is not an inch of willingness on the Russian side to talk.” She claimed that the vote in the hall was 19 to 1 against the Russian invasion, even though there was disagreement over sanctions.

Lavrov claimed he had come to Bali to get a sense “of how the west breathes”. It was clear that the West was not using the G20 for the purposes for which it was created, Lavrov said. Participants from developing countries did not support this approach, he claimed.

“Aggressors, intruders, occupants. We’ve heard quite a few of those things today,” he said, describing the speeches of his Western colleagues. He said some speeches were given for theatrical effect, citing Boris Johnson as a prime example. “Well, he resigned, and so be it,” Lavrov said. “Everyone said that Russia should be isolated. But so far his own party has isolated Boris Johnson.”

Much of the meetings and discussions on the sidelines were taken up with efforts to persuade Russia to allow the export of supplies of Ukrainian grain through an independently monitored safe naval corridor in the Black Sea. But the talks, largely led by Turkey and the UN, have been going on for weeks without any breakthrough.

Lavrov said: “Ukraine must end the blockade of its ports, clear them or allow passage through the minefields.”

After that, Russia and Turkey would ensure the safety of the cargo ships outside Ukraine’s sovereign territory so that they could move further into the Mediterranean, he said. But a meeting in Bali between Lavrov and the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, did not lead to an immediate breakthrough.

Lavrov denied that the dispute was a central factor in the wider global grain shortage, saying the blocked grain accounted for 1% of global supply.

Western diplomats say Russia sees stealing Ukrainian grain and blocking exports as measures designed to weaken Ukraine’s economy and increase the cost to the west of subsidizing the struggling country. During a plenary session, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Moscow to release Ukrainian grain into the world.

An official said Blinken addressed Russia directly, saying: “To our Russian colleagues: Ukraine is not your country. Its grain is not your grain. Why are you blocking the gates? You have to let the grain out.”

Lavrov said again that Russia could not export its own grain because of Western sanctions, for example because ships were not insured or could not call at foreign ports.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell hit back, saying EU sanctions “do not prohibit the importation of Russian goods or fertilizers, nor payment for such Russian exports”. Russia, he said, had invaded a breadbasket of the world and turned the Black Sea shipping lanes into a war zone.

Western leaders declined to participate in a group photo with Lavrov, but said their attendance at the meeting, as opposed to a full boycott, showed a greater willingness to make their argument rather than have other neutral states on their side.

For example, Baerbock said before the meeting: “I am here as German foreign minister with my European colleagues to show that we will not leave the international stage to Russia.”

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Lavrov will have noticed most closely the attitude of not the west but of the other great powers such as China, Saudi Arabia and India. Lavrov met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and told him about “the implementation of the main missions of the special military operation” in Ukraine and echoed the Kremlin’s rhetoric that the aim was to “denazify” the country.

Lavrov’s visit to Bali was also intended to prepare for a possible trip by Vladimir Putin to the G20 summit in November. It is unclear whether Putin will attend in person or via video.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss left the meeting early to return to London to campaign for the premiership. She left a Foreign Office official, Sir Tim Barrow, to represent the UK.

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