Tuesday July 16, 2024

First face-to-face contact: US asks Russia to end Ukraine war

Foreign ministers of Russia and US met on sidelines of G20 talks in New Delhi

March 03, 2023
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, attend the G20 foreign ministers meeting, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, on March 2, 2023.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, attend the G20 foreign ministers' meeting, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, on March 2, 2023.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged his Russian counterpart to end the Ukraine war on the sidelines of G20 talks on Thursday, in their first face-to-face contact since the invasion.

Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke briefly at the meeting of the world’s top diplomats in New Delhi, which failed to reach a joint final declaration after objections from Moscow and Beijing.

“I told the foreign minister what I and so many many others said last week at the United Nations, and what so many G20 foreign ministers said today—end this war of aggression, engage in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and lasting peace,” Blinken told reporters.

The last time Blinken and Lavrov were in the same room—at a G20 meeting in Bali last July—the latter stormed out, according to Western officials.

Until Thursday, there had been no high-level in-person contacts between the US and Russian governments since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022, with Washington firmly backing Kyiv and spearheading international efforts to isolate Russia.

Russian diplomatic spokeswoman Maria Zakharova sought to downplay the significance of the encounter, telling state news agency RIA Novosti that Blinken had initiated it and that it had been fleeting.

Lavrov “spoke to him, standing, as part of the second second session of the G20,” she said. “No talks or real meeting took place.”

No joint statement

Thursday’s G20 meeting drew to a close without a joint statement—the second such meeting of the bloc to fail to reach an accord in as many weeks.

Lavrov told the assembled foreign ministers that Western representatives had derailed the meeting in an effort to scapegoat Russia for their own failings, disrespecting efforts by the Indian hosts to reach agreement on other issues.

“I want to apologise to the Indian presidency and to our colleagues from countries of the global South for the obscene behaviour of some Western delegations, which have turned the G20’s agenda into a farce,” Lavrov said, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Discussions over the joint statement faltered on several issues including Russia’s insistence on an investigation into the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline last year, the foreign minister told reporters through an interpreter.

Russia and Western countries have traded accusations of responsibility for the September explosions.

Despite the apparent significance of Lavrov and Blinken’s meeting, analysts said there was no sign it would presage an end to the war.

“They have not said anything that convinces anyone of this crisis moving towards significant or serious resolution. It seems we are in for a long haul,” said Harsh V. Pant, a professor with King’s College London.

With no final joint declaration, a statement issued at the conclusion of the G20 meeting showed China had joined Russia in refusing to support the bloc’s demands that Moscow cease hostilities in Ukraine.

The two countries were the only G20 members not to agree to the statement demanding Russia’s “complete and unconditional withdrawal”.

A meeting of G20 finance ministers in the Indian city of Bengaluru last week had also failed to agree on a common statement after Russia and China sought to water down language on the war.

Western delegates fear China is considering supplying arms to Russia and said ahead of the summit they intended to discourage Beijing from intervening in the conflict.

“Were China to engage in material lethal support for Russia’s aggression or were to engage in the systematic evasion of sanctions to help Russia, that would be a serious problem for our countries,” Blinken said Thursday.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has framed itself as a neutral party, while retaining close ties with its strategic ally Russia.

Beijing has reacted furiously to the claims it may be contemplating arms transfers, and in February it issued a position paper calling for dialogue to resolve the conflict.

‘Not a time for war’

Russia’s war in Ukraine crowded out other agenda items at the meeting of the Group of Twenty, which comprises the world’s 19 largest economies and the European Union.

The differences frustrated India, which said it wanted to use its year as host to focus on issues such as alleviating poverty and climate finance.

Earlier in the day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said global governance had “failed” and urged attendees to come together for the sake of developing countries not represented there.

While India shares Western concerns about China, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and has ramped up Russian oil imports.

India has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine, Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin last year this was “not a time for war”.