At G20, divisions hinder bid to blame Russia for inflation crisis

US push to blame Russia’s war in Ukraine for cost-of-living crisis comes amid divisions within economic forum.

A sign with G20 in Bali, Indonesia
The G20 is far from united on how to respond to Russia's war in Ukraine [File: Dita Alangkara/Pool via AFP]

At the G20 summit in Indonesia, the United States and its allies are pushing the case that Russia and its war in Ukraine are to blame for the global cost-of-living crisis.

But the effort to hold Moscow responsible for the food security and inflation woes gripping the global economy faces an uphill climb in Bali amid palpable divisions over the war.

Even with inflation running at 40-year highs and the threat of a global recession looming, the club of leading economies is far from united on a response, with many non-Western members reluctant to openly side against Moscow.

On top of declining to join the Western-led sanctions campaign against Russia, China, India and South Africa have abstained in United Nations votes condemning Moscow’s invasion and subsequent moves to annex parts of Ukraine.

China, which declared a “friendship without limits” with Russia shortly before the outbreak of the war, has gone as far as to decry the sanctions as “counterproductive” and “illegal and unilateral”.

Among the G20’s other members, Indonesia – the summit host – Argentina, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have also refrained from imposing sanctions on Russia.

Saudi Arabia has additionally been accused by Washington of helping to fund Russia’s war effort by pushing up oil prices through its membership of OPEC+.

“I actually don’t think we will have any condemnation of Russia’s role in the food security crisis,” Alicia García-Herrero, the chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera.

“Even if Putin isn’t there, China will basically shadow Russia’s position and will surely control, basically, the communique to avoid condemnation.”

“It’s not only China,” García-Herrero said. “We already know that a number of countries have opposed any condemnation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has skipped the G20 leaders’ summit [File: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik via Reuters]

Ahead of the start of the headline leaders’ summit, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters on Monday that ending the war was “the single best thing we can do for the global economy”.

With food and energy prices already spiking worldwide, the summit is taking place just days ahead of the November 19 expiry of a United Nations-brokered deal to guarantee the safe passage of grain shipments through the Black Sea.

Russia, which briefly backed out of the deal before rejoining it earlier this month, has warned that the deal may not be renewed unless the country is granted greater access to the international financial system, which has been hobbled by sanctions.

Washington has insisted that the majority of the G20, which includes 19 countries and the European Union, is prepared to condemn Russia’s war.

In a briefing with reporters in Bali on Tuesday, a US official said G20 members would sign a declaration condemning the war before the end of the week and were in agreement that the conflict was “the root source of immense economic and humanitarian suffering in the world”.

The unnamed official declined to be drawn on which countries would and would not support the declaration, according to media reports.

According to a draft communique circulated among media outlets, the G20 could state that it witnessed the war “adversely impact the global economy” and “most members” condemn the war, but members reiterate their “national positions” and there are “other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”. As a preliminary statement, the draft communique could yet undergo any number of revisions before its adoption.

Julien Chaisse, a trade and investment expert at City University of Hong Kong, said he expected the effort to hold Russia responsible for the difficult economic conditions to resonate widely, but nevertheless, do little to move countries that have been reluctant to condemn Moscow.

“There is no sign of change in attitude for China, for example, which until now has still not condemned the invasion of Ukraine,” Chaisse told Al Jazeera. “Or India, which continues to trade with Moscow, despite Western sanctions.

“At best, I think this G20 can try to avoid to escalate tensions and divide countries further,” Chaisse added. “It would already be a diplomatic success if this summit could prevent further spreading the divisions of the world. More divisions could call into question the very credibility of the G20, which, as matter of fact, is at stake.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has stressed the neutrality of the summit and rebuffed calls to exclude Russia, opened the summit on Tuesday with a call to reject “zero-sum situations” and “end the war”.

“If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward,” Widodo said.

But with Russian President Vladimir Putin skipping the summit and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is participating by video link, rejecting Russian proposals for Kyiv to adopt a non-aligned status similar to Sweden or Austria, hopes for a negotiated peace deal or ceasefire appear slim.

In her address to the summit, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva called on the G20 to reduce trade barriers, assist developing economies with their debt burdens and invest in climate-resilient agriculture.

But Georgieva did not address the need to end the war, which she noted as one of a number of factors behind the “abrupt slowdown” in the global economy, or hold Russia responsible.

“We are seeing a reversal of all we had been fighting for: bringing poverty down, bringing hunger down,” Georgieva said. “Now we have 345 million people that are suffering from a food crisis.”

William Chen, the director of the food science and technology programme at Nanyang Technological University Singapore, said the G20 members could still focus on ways to improve food security through investment in agriculture.

“I am of the view that many external factors can impact on food security. And sometimes these are beyond our control but we can take these as a wake-up call for us to change current practices for the better,” Chen told Al Jazeera.

“The way forward would be to mount a global and collective effort to turn the crises into opportunities, by making current farming practices more efficient,” Chen said.

“This can be done by improving agriculture yield, relying less on chemical fertilisers, and developing urban farming for alternative food sources.”

Source: Al Jazeera