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G20 host Indonesia lobbies West to soften Russia criticism in communiqué

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BALI, Indonesia — Senior Indonesian politicians are calling on Western leaders to make concessions on how far to go in criticizing Russia over the war in Ukraine in a last-ditch effort to avoid leaving the G20 summit later this week without a joint declaration, three diplomats with knowledge of the ongoing negotiations told POLITICO.

According to these diplomats, U.S., European, Australian, Canadian and Japanese officials are among those under pressure from Indonesian counterparts, all the way up to President Joko Widodo, to show “flexibility” and consider using less tough rhetoric in order for Moscow — represented at the Bali summit by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — to say yes to a communiqué at the end of the gathering.

Widodo “considers it a personal success” if a G20 declaration could be reached, one of the officials said, adding that the Indonesian leader has lamented repeatedly that he is chairing the “most difficult” G20 summit ever.

He is also seeking to avoid kicking Russia out and making it the G19, which the G8 did in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

One possibility would be to focus squarely on the aspect of “upholding international law.” If adopted, that would be much more coded wording than what’s been used by the G7, which has repeatedly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.

The latest G7 statement, following this month’s meeting of foreign ministers from the group, criticized Moscow for “its war of aggression against Ukraine” and called for Russia to withdraw. “We condemn Russia’s recent escalation, including its attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” it said. The G7 countries also blasted “Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric,” according to the Nov. 4 statement.

“Obviously we can’t be as tough as we do it in G7 when you need the Russians, Chinese and Saudis to agree,” a Western diplomat said, referring to the larger G20 grouping. “The question is how much we need to delete.”

China, Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil, four of the fellow G20 countries, are described as “sitting on the fence” over the issue.

Beijing, in particular, would find it impossible to accept any direct criticism of Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will be attending the G20 summit personally, has so far only made an effort to show disapproval of any threats of using nuclear weapons, without attributing such threats to Moscow.

Another issue for Widodo is the likely lack of a family photo for the two-day summit that starts on Tuesday. According to convention, all the G20 leaders would line up and take a group picture to show solidarity. This time, however, Western leaders have hesitation about being in the same frame as Lavrov, a key aide to Putin, whom U.S. President Joe Biden has called a “killer.”

Widodo is described as “interested” in assessing fellow leaders’ opinions on having such a family photo.

Much of his lobbying has taken place in Cambodia, where he’s attending the East Asia Summit. Also in Cambodia were Biden, European Council President Charles Michel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Australia’s Anthony Albanese. Russia’s Lavrov and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang were also in Phnom Penh.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged Western countries for more “flexibility” | Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking in Cambodia, Albanese confirmed to reporters that officials are still negotiating over the wording a G20 final communiqué.

“You know the way that these conferences work. We’ve just got through an East Asia Summit, an ASEAN meeting and a range of other summits. So we’re waiting to see what happens, but I go into the G20 with a great deal of confidence,” Albanese said.

Lavrov criticized Washington for stirring up confrontation in Asia. “There is a clear trend on militarization of the region through coordination of efforts of local U.S. allies such Australia, New Zealand, Japan with NATO enlargement,” he said.

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