Western leaders signaled confirmation of their attendance at the November summit of the Group of 20 in Bali, despite initial boycott threats, and the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin could possibly participate virtually at the gathering.
In a call with reporters Thursday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said they would decide “at the necessary time” on whether Putin would attend in person.
Putin’s potential remote participation at the summit could solve a diplomatic headache for host country Indonesia, which has been under Western pressure to kick Moscow out of the gathering of the world’s 20 largest economies, with U.S. President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders previously stating they would not attend unless Putin was excluded.
As this year’s G-20 chair, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has been on a diplomatic blitz trying to salvage the summit. He met Putin in Moscow on Thursday following his Wednesday meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, and with G-7 leaders in Germany earlier this week.
Jakarta announced in April that it had invited Russia, a G-20 member. It has since sought to bridge the gap between the West's effort to isolate Putin at various global forums as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine, and the interest of middle-power members, including India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, who want the summit’s agenda to center on post-pandemic recovery.
Zelenskyy plans to attend
Zelenskyy told Widodo on Wednesday that he would be attending the summit, depending on the status of the Russian invasion and the “composition of participants in the event.”
In April, Widodo invited Zelenskyy, despite Ukraine's not being a member. Biden had pressed for Zelenskyy to be invited to the G-20 if other members chose not to expel Moscow.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became the latest G-7 leader to say his country would take part in the gathering in November.
"It's too important that we be there to counteract the voice and the lies that Russia will perhaps be putting forward,” he said Thursday.
Trudeau said he expected the other G-7 countries – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — to take part even if Russia remained a member of the G-20 group.
The White House told VOA the U.S. intends to participate but has not confirmed whether Biden will be attending in person.
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Western leaders not to boycott. He questioned the wisdom of Western leaders' vacating their seats at the meeting and leaving “the whole argument to China, to Russia.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and G-7 host German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also indicated that they would attend. Scholz said Tuesday that there had been “great unity” at the G-7 leaders’ meeting and that “we do not want to drive the G-20 apart.”
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi indicated that Jakarta had assured Western leaders they would not be seated at the same table as Putin.
"President Widodo rules it out," Draghi told reporters at the end of the G-7 summit. "He was categorical, he [Putin] will not come.” Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov fired back, “Draghi does not decide this.”
Jakarta has not responded to VOA’s request to confirm Widodo’s statement on Putin’s plans.
Lucas Myers, Southeast Asia analyst at the Wilson Center, said Widodo has a chance to enhance his international prestige if he pulls off the balancing act.
"If successful in achieving a productive summit that manages to placate both Russia and the G-7, it will demonstrate Indonesia’s growing role internationally and Jakarta’s ability to balance the complex rivalries of an increasingly multipolar and tense world,” Myers told VOA.
In a joint press conference with Putin after their meeting at the Kremlin Thursday, Widodo said via an interpreter that he had conveyed a message from Zelenskyy to Putin and had offered to play peace broker between the two.
Widodo did not provide details, and neither side said what the message entailed.
The Indonesian leader said Russia had agreed to open a sea route for Ukrainian wheat exports amid escalating concerns about global food shortages.
"I really appreciate President Putin, who has said he'll provide security guarantees for food and fertilizer supplies from both Ukraine and Russia — this is good news," Widodo said.
Widodo said he supported the U.N. proposal to open a Black Sea route for Ukrainian grain exports as well as Russian food and fertilizer exports. The U.N. has been in talks with both countries and Turkey, which has suggested that ships could be guided around sea mines by establishing safe corridors in the Black Sea.
Tens of millions of people across the world, including in Indonesia and other developing nations, are at risk of hunger as the conflict disrupted shipments of grain from Ukraine and fertilizer from Russia, both key producers.