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Zelenskyy's Invite to G20 Not Enough for Biden

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FILE - World leaders pose for a group photo at the G-20 summit at the La Nuvola conference center, in Rome, Oct. 30, 2021. This year's G-20 summit will be held in November in Bali, Indonesia.

The White House is signaling that a decision by Indonesia — who holds this year's Group of 20 presidency — to invite Ukraine to the November summit in Bali is not enough to ensure the attendance of U.S. President Joe Biden — unless Russian President Vladimir Putin is excluded from the gathering.

"Our understanding, and of course you could confirm this with the Indonesians, as we have reached out to them privately, is that they did invite them [Russia] before the invasion. … We've conveyed our view that we don't think they [Russia] should be a part of it," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday.

Earlier Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that he had invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the economic forum's summit.

"We understand the G-20 has a catalyst role in global economic recovery, and when we speak of global economic recovery, there are two important factors right now: COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine," Widodo said in a video remark, outlining the rationale of his invitation to Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy’s Invite to G20 Not Enough for Biden
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Widodo said he had extended the invitation during a call with Zelenskyy on Wednesday, during which Widodo turned down a request for weapons but offered humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. He said that he had spoken to Putin on Thursday and that the Russian president informed him that he would be attending the summit.

"Indonesia wants to unite G-20," Widodo said. "Peace and stability are the keys to global economic recovery and growth."

That may be a tall order amid Western leaders' demands to kick Russia out of the group of the world's 20 largest economies. Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, among others, have raised concerns about Putin's participation in the summit and signaled they will not attend if Putin is there.

No diplomatic off-ramp expected

Psaki noted that while the administration welcomed Jakarta's move to invite Ukraine, it was pessimistic that Moscow would take a diplomatic off-ramp from the war ahead of the G-20 summit.

"We certainly haven't seen an indication to date of Russia's plan to participate in diplomatic talks constructively," Psaki said. "Our hope certainly is that will change, because obviously diplomatic talks and conversations is the way to bring an end to this conflict, and President Putin could end this tomorrow, could end this right now."

It was Biden who suggested that Kyiv attend G-20 meetings should other members disagree to kick Russia out. He made the point following a meeting with NATO members and European allies in Brussels last month, where, he said, they discussed expelling Putin from the G-20.

(From left to right) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden.
(From left to right) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden.

With China supporting Moscow to remain in the group, analysts point out that Widodo is in a tough position. Ultimately, his government may have to decide whether it is willing to trade Putin's attendance for several Western leaders' absence.

"I think the perfect solution for Indonesia would be, they invite Zelenskyy, and then the Russians say that Putin decided not to come, and then Jokowi doesn't have to make this decision," Gregory Poling told VOA, referring to Widodo's nickname. Poling researches U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration signaled it wants the G-20 to discuss the international economic repercussions of the Russian invasion and potentially Ukraine's reconstruction.

That idea will likely create further rifts in the economic forum. Middle-power G-20 members, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and others, have centered their own agenda around post-pandemic recovery, which does not align with the West's focus of isolating Putin and helping Ukraine.

Jakarta has set three pillars for its G-20 presidency: global health architecture, sustainable energy transition and digital transformation. It has chosen "Recover Together, Recover Stronger" as the theme of this year's summit — a proposal that could unravel amid new geopolitical rivalries triggered by Putin's war.

Eva Mazrieva and Virginia Gunawan contributed to this report.

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