by Georgi Gotev
Russian President Vladimir Putin still has not decided whether he will attend the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, between 15-16 November or send a high-level delegation in his place.
If he goes, it will be the first major global summit the Kremlin chief has attended alongside top Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (widely known as Jokowi) aims to use the G20 meeting for Ukraine peace talks.
But for the West, Putin’s potential presence in Bali is an outrage. Biden, for one, has no intention “to sit down with Vladimir Putin,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
This means that the two may exchange a word or two but bilateral talks will not be on the table.
Furthermore, while discussing Ukraine without the country’s officials present looks appealing to Putin, it is unacceptable to the West.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for kicking Moscow out of the G20 but as Ukraine is not even a member, this will likely hold little weight.
After Russia illegally annexed Crimea, it was excluded from G8 by its members, turning the club into today’s G7: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, and Italy. The European Commission and Council presidents also sit at the G7 table.
But Russia counts friends in the G20, including but not limited to the BRICS countries, the acronym standing for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil has a new president-elect, but Putin has already said he is on good terms with both.
Our bet is that Putin will attend the G20 summit and do his best to win the communication battle on the picturesque Indonesian island, against the backdrop of the second edition of the global food crisis, once again created by Moscow.
Raising the stakes, Russia suspended on Saturday its participation in the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal agreed upon in July.
The July agreement was set to expire on 19 November, and all eyes were on Russia for a renewal. Suspending the agreement and blaming the West adds drama and shows that Putin probably plans to steal the show in Bali.
Russian propaganda has been effective vis-a-vis many developing countries, who buy the argument that Western sanctions – and not Russia – are the main reason for the global food crisis.
Putin can count on Jokowi, the proud host of the gathering, but also on the president of Turkey, a G20 member, to stage the scene for press opportunities he will use to bash the West.
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has gained prestige by co-authoring the July deal with the UN and certainly seeks another round of applause.
Putin will undoubtedly present himself as the man of peace and blame Zelenskyy as the man of war.
But the Ukrainian position is clear: talks with Russia under Putin are impossible. In October, Zelenskyy signed a decree formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Putin “impossible” but leaving the door open for talks with Russia more broadly.
Putin, whose army is losing this war on the battlefield, would like to win by diplomacy the territories it could not gain by military force. The Kremlin chief will try to garner support for this and for lifting Western sanctions in return for ending the war and the global food crisis, both of which he engineered himself.
Whether this scenario will work is another thing. Putin went to the Shanghai organisation summit in Samarkand in September with hopes of garnering support from heavyweights like China and India. Still, it didn’t quite go the way he planned.
Either scenario is possible: Putin could turn G20 into a tribune for his anti-Western narrative, or he may find himself more isolated than bargained for. Whatever is in his mind right now, diplomats are already busy behind the scenes.
*first published in: Euractiv.com