By Nazarudin Latif and Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Russian President Vladimir Putin likely won’t attend next week’s G20 summit in Bali in person, an Indonesian presidential aide said Tuesday, while the American and Chinese presidents are expected to be there.
Group of Twenty chair and meeting host Indonesia can expect to preside over a fraught gathering of world leaders, with divisions within the grouping of the globe’s leading economies over Russia’s invasion and war in Ukraine.
“[T]here is a strong likelihood that President Putin will not attend,” Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, a member of the Presidential Staff Office, told BenarNews.
“Russia will still be present, but maybe not the president,” she said.
Putin’s Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will participate virtually as an observer at the summit on Nov. 15-16 after having said that he wouldn’t if Russia’s president were attending it, Ukraine’s state-run broadcaster reported.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he had talked with Putin over the phone and was under the impression that the Russian leader would not travel to Bali. However, Jokowi later told reporters there that the Russian leader may ask to join the meeting virtually, the Reuters news agency reported.
According to Siti, the Indonesian leader was still trying to persuade Putin and Zelenskyy to come to Bali in the hopes that their presence could help deescalate the war in Ukraine.
Jokowi said leaders from 17 countries had confirmed their participation at the Bali meeting, including United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“A few days ago I spoke on the phone with President Putin and President Zelenskyy. They said they would come if the situation allowed,” Jokowi said as he inspected summit venues in Bali.
“If not, just like Zelenskyy said the other day, maybe virtually,” he said.
Having 17 leaders attending the summit would be an achievement for Indonesia, Jokowi said.
“In normal times 17 or 18 leaders would attend. These aren’t normal times, the world is in a very difficult situation, all countries are having difficulties. If the same number [of leaders attend] I think that would be very good,” Jokowi said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne quoted Zelenskyy’s spokesperson on Tuesday as saying the president may attend the G20 summit virtually, Reuters reported.
Zelenskyy had previously told Suspilne that he would refuse to attend the meeting in Bali if Putin was there.
‘Political issues are certainly unavoidable’
Siti, the presidential aide, stressed that the G20 was a forum for discussing economic cooperation.
“However, political issues are certainly unavoidable, especially since the war [in Ukraine] is still ongoing,” she said.
As this year’s holder of the rotating G20 presidency, Jokowi has sought unity within the G20 grouping of industrialized and emerging economies ahead of the summit.
In March, U.S. President Joe Biden, who is also expected to attend the summit, urged Jokowi to invite Ukraine as a guest if Russia was not expelled from the group for invading its smaller neighbor in late February.
Western countries have condemned Russia for invading Ukraine while other G20 members including China, Indonesia and India have refused to follow suit and maintain ties with Moscow.
During the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali in July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov walked out at least once in protest of what he called the “frenzied castigation” of Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
He took the action after top U.S., British, Canadian and Ukrainian financial diplomats walked out as a Russian official addressed a G20 meeting in Washington on April 20.
Focus on the economy
Putin’s likely absence would allow the G20 to focus on economic issues without being sidetracked by geopolitics, said Riza Noer Arfani, an international relations lecturer at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
“Putin’s absence will be a relief to Western countries, especially the United States, but we should not let them call all the shots,” Riza told BenarNews.
He suggested that Indonesia build more intensive communication on economic issues with fellow emerging economies such as Brazil, South Africa and China. This was important, Riza said, in the face of an impending recession.
According to another observer, the issue of Putin’s presence in Bali poses a dilemma for Indonesia.
As the leader of G20 member, it is important for Putin to attend the summit, but some Western leaders may cancel their participation, said Agus Haryanto, head of the international relations department at Jenderal Soedirman University in Purwokerto.
“I think the government of Indonesia is expecting a Russian representative to attend in person or Putin to attend virtually, if possible and agreed to by other G20 members,” Agus said.