US Set to Include Ukraine in G-20 Agenda

The Biden administration appears set to include discussions of international economic repercussions of the Russian invasion and potentially Ukraine’s reconstruction as part of the November G-20 summit agenda, an idea that is likely to create further rift in the economic forum.

“It is not uncommon for events that are impacting the global community as Ukraine is, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to play a central role at international forums,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told VOA during a briefing Wednesday. “And their economic recovery and rebuilding and reconstruction is going to be something that the global community is going to be involved in and address.”

In March, President Joe Biden said he wanted Russia removed from the Group of 20 largest economies or to have Ukraine be invited as an observer in the upcoming G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

“The inclusion of Ukraine does not mean it’s only about the battle on the ground. We’re going to need to rebuild Ukraine,” Psaki added, noting that Ukraine has applied for membership in the European Union, which is part of G-20.

Responding to criticism that Western demands to exclude Moscow disrupt the summit’s agenda and create division in the group, Psaki said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown himself to be a “pariah in the world” and has “no place at international forums.”

Following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, Moscow was kicked out from the Group of Eight (G-8), now known as the Group of Seven (G-7). However, the G-20 is a much wider grouping with many more competing interests.

G-20 boycott

Biden has not said he would boycott the G-20 summit should Putin attend but insists the forum cannot be “business as usual.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have also raised concerns about Putin’s participation.

This puts Indonesian President Joko Widodo, as this year’s G-20 chair, in a tough position. He must prepare to host leaders of the 20 largest economies at a time when the world is technically still under a pandemic and attempt consensus on the world’s most pressing economic problems while navigating new geopolitical rivalries triggered by Putin’s war.

Middle-power members, including India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and others, have their own agenda centered around post-pandemic recovery that do not align with the West’s focus of isolating Putin and helping Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“That’s all going to have to be renegotiated,” William Pomeranz, acting director of the Wilson Center Kennan Institute, told VOA. “Most of their members do not feel obliged to rebuild Ukraine.”

Gregory Poling, who researches U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA’s Indonesian Service that while it is understandable that non-Western G-20 members are reluctant to have condemnation of Russia override the agenda, there is simply no possibility for Biden and other Western leaders to sit across Putin at the summit’s table.

Ultimately for Jakarta, it may boil down to whether they are willing to trade Putin’s attendance for several Western leaders’ absence, Poling said. And while Indonesian diplomats would have preferred quiet negotiations rather than public announcements from Western leaders, the tension was going to surface at some point.

“Indonesia was never going to disinvite Vladimir Putin without significant pressure and that pressure would have had to have been delivered publicly, sooner or later,” Poling said.

Jakarta’s dilemma

As a middle power struggling to recover from the pandemic, Indonesia is focused on using its G-20 presidency to create a conducive environment for emerging economies to excel and safeguard the forum from geopolitical rivalries that could further market uncertainties, Dinna Prapto Raharja, founder of the Jakarta-based think tank Synergy Policies, told VOA.

“His [Widodo’s] desire is mainly to make sure that (the) G-20 will be the forum that can sustain its mandate, which is the economic mandate,” Prapto Raharja said. “The scarcity of goods, the consequences of untenable rise of energy prices, the inability of emerging economies to get out from the COVID-19 crisis – this needs to be the agenda.”

Including Ukraine as an observer, as Biden has suggested, will complicate matters as Kyiv’s main interest is to secure assistance against Russian aggression and has nothing to do with G-20 goals, she said. However, Jakarta must prepare a contingent mechanism to allow views on Ukraine to be aired without disrupting the summit’s focus.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian public views Russia’s invasion of Ukraine partly through the lens of anti-West attitudes and skepticism of U.S. foreign policies. These sentiments have been magnified by pro-Putin propaganda pushed on social media.

“Our research shows 95% of TikTok users and 73% of Instagram users in Indonesia supports Russia after Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs assistance from NATO and the West,” Dudy Rudianto, founder of Jakarta-based data analysis firm Evello, told VOA’s Indonesian Service. This suggests Widodo may pay a political price should his government be seen as caving into Western demands to kick Putin out of the summit.

So far, Jakarta has neither revoked Putin’s invitation nor agreed to include Ukraine in the G-20 agenda. Earlier this month, a spokesman said the government is still considering different members’ points of views and will continue to focus on the three pillars of its G-20 presidency: global health architecture, sustainable energy transition and digital transformation.

As an informal grouping established in 1999 following a global economic crisis, the G-20 has no mechanism to expel a member, said Matthew Goodman, who holds the Simon Chair in Political Economy at CSIS.

“It doesn’t have a formal set of rules or even a really clear rationale for who’s in the group and who isn’t,” Goodman told VOA. “In practice, it would require all the other 19 countries to say, we don’t want that 20th country in the group.”

This is unlikely considering China’s position that Moscow is an important member of the forum, as well as other members’ reluctance to condemn Russia, including India, Brazil, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

A National Security Council spokesperson told VOA that the U.S. will continue discussions with G-20 partners, including Indonesia.

“We will continue to explore participation as Putin’s war continues and we get closer to the G-20 Leaders’ Summit that is still over seven months away,” the spokesperson said.

Fractured support

While there has been solid backing from Europe and the G-7 for Biden’s efforts to hold Russia accountable, support beyond that has been more fractured.

Most notable is G-20 and Quad member, India. New Delhi, reliant on Moscow for military hardware, has abstained from various U.N. votes relating to the conflict.

India’s ambivalence on the Ukraine war is emblematic of Russia’s considerable influence around the world. Washington needs to be mindful of these geopolitical realities, analysts said.

“It’s not going to be as simple as showing the videos of the terrible actions in Ukraine and then the rest of the world will say – yes, Russia is committing war crimes and so forth and that we need to isolate it,” Pomeranz, of the Wilson Center, said.

The Biden administration must also take into account how the war in Ukraine could trigger nonaligned instincts.

“There is a danger if you have a zero-sum competition between these two blocs,” Stewart Patrick, director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA. He noted that many countries loathe their Cold War experience of being treated as pawns in global rivalries.

Perceptions about selectivity of U.S. foreign policy is also a factor, Patrick said. It is problematic for Washington to rally global support against Moscow in light of its own invasion on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Trump administration’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

“I don’t have any updates on that front,” Psaki told VOA last month when asked if the Biden administration has plans to revoke the recognition.

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