Blinken won’t meet with Lavrov at G-20 summit in Indonesia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will not meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when the two are in Bali, Indonesia, this week for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Group of 20 nations.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the “time is not right” for a bilateral engagement between the two top diplomats because of Russia’s “unprovoked, brutal war” against Ukraine. 

The G-20 foreign minister’s meeting, set to take place between July 7 and 8, presents a potentially awkward, public confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, which are both members of the global grouping, more than five months into Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

“We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine,” Price said. 

Price would not speak to the “choreography” of the summit, alluding to the potential that Blinken could be in the same room or a photograph with the Russian foreign minister, but said the secretary would be an “active participant in the G-20.”

The summit will also bring together other member states on opposite sides of the war, as well as ones that have taken neutral positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Price said that he expects a number of G-20 members to express “no shortage of condemnation for the actions on the part of the Russian federation.” 

But potential outliers include Indonesia — whose president recently shuttled between Moscow and Kyiv to try and achieve a breakthrough on food shipments out of Ukraine — and countries that have sought to preserve ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

These include India, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China. 

Blinken will hold a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in what the State Department called a meeting to “establish and reinforce guardrails” to avoid outright conflict between the U.S. and China. 

“Our top priority in the Secretary’s meeting with Counselor Foreign Minister Wang Yi is to underscore our commitment to intense diplomacy and maintaining open lines of communication with the People’s Republic of China,”  Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Daniel J. Kritenbrink told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday.

Still, the G-20 foreign ministers, while divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine and the U.S.-led strategy to isolate and sanction Moscow while arming Ukraine, are likely to focus on the global food crisis that Russia’s war has triggered. 

The United Nations has warned that the number of food insecure people globally could increase dramatically in 2023, after doubling over the past two years to 276 million people in need of food assistance. 

More than 20 million tons of grain are estimated to be stuck in Ukraine, with sea shipment blocked by Russia’s warships in the Black Sea. The U.S. has said Russia is spreading disinformation in response to its claims that sanctions by the U.S. and its allies are blocking Russian exports of food and fertilizer. 

“Food and energy security are going to feature very prominently in the discussions,”  Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Assistant Secretary Ramin Toloui told reporters.

“One important source of the problem, when it comes to food and energy security, is Russia’s continued war in Ukraine.” 

Touli added that the U.S. would like to see the G-20 “hold Russia accountable” and support initiatives by the United Nations to move food out of Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa, as well as moving Russian foodstuffs and fertilizer to the global market.

“Whether that happens at the level of the G-20, or the level of individual G-20 countries, that’s an important point that Secretary Blinken will make when he engages his counterparts,” Touli said.