By SEUNG MIN KIM, ZEKE MILLER and ELAINE KURTENBACH
NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AP) — Leaders of the world’s largest economies appeared ready Tuesday to convey a strong message from most condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed the group to maintain pressure on Moscow over its nine-month war that has devastated Ukraine and roiled the global economy.
A draft declaration by leaders of the Group of 20 major economies under discussion Tuesday echoes the condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine by the United Nations, while acknowledging differing views among members. The careful wording of the statement reflects tensions prevailing at the gathering, which includes leaders from Russia and China, and the challenge facing the U.S. and its allies to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government as some nations seek to avoid becoming entangled in antagonisms between the big powers.
Still, it would be a strong rebuke of the war that has killed thousands, heightened global security tensions and disrupted the world economy if adopted in its current form, particularly since China and India abstained from condemning Russia’s aggression in the March U.N. resolution.
The statement seen Tuesday by The Associated Press “deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation” and “demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine.” The G-20 draft statement also noted there were different views on the situation and sanctions against Russia, saying that the G-20 was not the forum for resolving security issues.
The push for a strong statement against Russia came as the summit was touched by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen tested positive for COVID-19 after his arrival in Bali and said he was returning home. So far, no other leaders are known to have tested positive, though many of those in Bali also attended meetings with the prime minister just days ago during a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian nations.
Biden skipped out on an evening gala hosted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, to attend to unspecified matters. Biden sent his regrets to Widodo and said he would attend a planned tree planting with fellow G-20 leaders on Wednesday, according to a White House official. The official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted it had been a “full day” for the president but insisted that Biden’s absence was not related to COVID-19.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who led the Russian delegation to the summit in place of Putin, denounced the Biden administration push to condemn Moscow.
“All problems are on the Ukrainian side that categorically refuses to hold any talks and comes up with conditions obviously unrealistic and inadequate to this situation,” Lavrov said.
In a video address to the summit, Zelenskyy joined Biden in trying to persuade the G-20 to further isolate Russia diplomatically and economically, despite a souring global financial outlook that has tested many nations’ resolve.
Inflation and slowing economies are weighing on countries that have imposed penalties on Russia for starting the war. Higher costs for energy and food have destabilized business activity around the world, as much of Europe prepares to brave the winter without imports of Russian natural gas.
Widodo impressed on the gathering what’s at stake. “If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward,” he said.
Zelenskyy reiterated 10 conditions for ending the conflict that began in February, among them a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and full restoration of Ukrainian control of its territory. He spoke days after Ukraine retook the strategic city of Kherson from Russian forces, in his country’s latest step in a counteroffensive that has forced Moscow to withdraw its forces from previously-occupied areas.
“Ukraine should not be offered to conclude compromises with its conscience, sovereignty, territory and independence,” he said. “Ukraine has always been a leader in peacekeeping efforts, and the world has witnessed it. And if Russia says that it supposedly wants to end this war, let it prove it with actions.”
At the summit, Biden met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who played a pivotal role this summer in brokering a deal to open up Ukrainian grain exports to ease global food shortages. Biden also met briefly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose cooperation is needed to secure a U.S.-sought price cap on Russian oil to limit the profits Moscow uses to invest in its defense base.
Modi, whose country will assume the G-20 presidency after Indonesia, reiterated his call for “the path of ceasefire and diplomacy” in the war in Ukraine and spoke about efforts by world leaders at World War II to pursue a “path of peace.”
Separately, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres held a lengthy meeting Tuesday with Lavrov to discuss the Black Sea Grain Initiative, said UN Spokesperson Florencia Soto Niño. The deal, which allowed major grain exporter Ukraine to resume exports from ports that had been blocked due to the war, is up for renewal on Nov. 19.
The U.S. and its allies have responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with export controls and other sanctions, making it harder for Russia’s military to access key technologies and resupply with drones, artillery and other weapons.
Chinese officials have largely refrained from public criticism of Russia’s war, although Beijing has avoided direct support of the Russians, such as supplying arms. Biden said that during his meeting Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping they discussed the war and “reaffirmed our shared belief” that the use or even the threat of nuclear weapons was “totally unacceptable” — a reference to Moscow’s thinly veiled threats to use atomic weapons as its invasion of Ukraine has faltered.
Xi told G-20 leaders the global economy should not be weaponized.
“We must resolutely oppose the attempt to politicize food and energy issues or use them as tools and weapons,” he said in translated remarks.
After meeting with Xi, French President Emmanuel Macron said they had called for “respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”
In a tweet, Macron said France and China were determined to “put an end to the escalation of the war in Ukraine and deal with its consequences.”
The summit is the first for two critical new partners in Biden’s effort: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni.
Sunak, who took office last month, has promised to continue his conservative predecessors’ steadfast support for Ukraine. He and Biden were set to strategize during their Wednesday meeting on new ways to bolster Ukraine’s defenses for the long haul.
Meloni has pledged to continue to provide arms and aid for Ukraine, but questions remain over her far-right coalition’s commitment to stand up to Russia. She and Biden met on the sidelines of the summit on Tuesday and discussed China, the climate crisis, the impact of Russia’s invasion on the global energy market, and their commitment to providing Ukraine support, according to a White House statement.
AP writers Niniek Karmini, Foster Klug and Adam Schreck in Nusa Dua, Indonesia and Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed.