Russia and the US failed to agree on language for a joint statement following a multilateral summit in Cambodia, making it unlikely the Group of 20 nations will reach a consensus in Indonesia either this week. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put the blame on the US and its allies for the lack of communique at the 18-nation East Asian Summit, saying on Sunday they “insisted on absolutely unacceptable language regarding the situation in Ukraine.” Russia refuses to describe its invasion of Ukraine as a war, instead calling it a “special military operation.”

Lavrov also accused the US of dividing the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and criticized NATO for stepping up activity in the region. His comments on NATO echo a growing concern of China, even though the US alliance system in Asia doesn’t include NATO’s collective defense agreements. 

“NATO is no longer saying that this is a purely defensive alliance,” said Lavrov, speaking in Cambodia before heading to Bali, Indonesia. “There is a clear trend on militarization of the region through coordination of efforts of local US allies such Australia, New Zealand, Japan with NATO enlargement.” 

US President Joe Biden on Monday will hold his first in-person meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who has been Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s most important diplomatic partner. Still, earlier this month Xi told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz he opposed the use of nuclear force in Europe, in the Chinese leader’s most direct remarks yet on the need to keep Russia’s war in Ukraine from escalating. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has split the international community, with the US and its allies putting sanctions on Moscow and providing its neighbor with military aid and economic assistance. Other countries have balked at doing so or failed to condemn Moscow for its actions. The conflict has thwarted broader international cooperation, prompting several multilateral meetings this year to end in discord. 

Indonesia, which holds the rotating G-20 presidency, has sought to bridge the gap between the Group of Seven countries and Russia. But in the final days before the summit, hope was dwindling that the two sides could find a compromise for a joint communique, making it likely Indonesia will need to issue a chair’s statement instead. 

“On this particular paragraph related to war maybe there will be no agreement, but we’re still trying,” Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told Bloomberg TV on Sunday. She emphasized the importance of the G-20 delivering “very tangible and concrete deliverables” in areas like climate change and the pandemic even if there is no joint communique.

Ahead of the summit, a Japanese government official told reporters that G-7 nations were insisting on mentioning Russia’s invasion in any communique. While Indonesia was seeking some middle ground, and Japan wanted to support the efforts of the Southeast Asian nation, ultimately the G-7 needed to maintain its principles on Russia, the official said.

‘Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine’

When G-20 finance ministers met in July in Bali, Indonesia, some attendees quipped that the biggest accomplishment was that everyone stayed in the room when the Russian delegation spoke. The war in Ukraine still dominated conversations, with the US and allies pinning Russia for the global economic woes and especially the already-soaring prices of food and fuel. 

Speaking on Air Force One late Sunday after the ASEAN summit, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that the US believes the number of countries prepared to call Russia out on the issue is rising.

“The direction of travel is positive,” he said.

While Russia’s war drowned out most other issues, there were agreements around food security, monitoring sovereign default risk and longer-term work on digital banking and inclusion and climate risk mitigation. As with other gatherings of international groupings this year, the summit ended with a chair’s statement.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who will attend the G-20 in Bali, told reporters Sunday that earlier meetings failed to produce communiques because the US and other countries “are insistent on discussing the global implications of Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine.” 

“Many, many countries said the single most important thing that we can do to improve the macro outlook is for Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine,” Yellen said. “And there was broad support for that, but of course Russia is a member of the G-20, and there are other countries that are reticent about criticizing Russia.”

— With assistance by Rosalind Mathieson, Christopher Condon, Philip Heijmans, Michelle Jamrisko, Isabel Reynolds, Stephen Engle and Josh Wingrove

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