The West has paralyzed the G20 by pursuing confrontation with Russia and China, but the organization remains indispensable
The meeting of G20 foreign ministers turned into something of a farce, as Russia's Sergey Lavrov left the meeting before the end, and his US counterpart delivered insults.
No breakthroughs were achieved on issues that are vital to the world. This meeting was another rehearsal for the G20 summit scheduled for November, which seems doomed to fail due to the conflict between Russia and the West, as well as ever-growing tensions between the US and China.
Russian experts agree that because of these problems, the organization that helped the world overcome the 2008 financial crisis will not be able to rein in the current energy and food disaster.
Will the G20 survive in the context of a major conflict between its key participants? Who suffers from the organization’s inefficiency the most, and which blocs will be in charge of handling global issues in the new reality? RT explains.
The Moscow issue
For the first time since the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, the foreign ministers of the G7 countries met personally with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The meeting was held on the island of Bali, Indonesia. And it didn't go well.
Firstly, for the first time in the history of meetings between G20 diplomats, the participants refused to pose together for a photo.
Secondly, the Russian minister and his Western counterparts exchanged mutual accusations: Western ministers accused Russia of blocking grain supplies, Lavrov accused the West of an dangerous approach.
“If the West doesn’t want talks to take place but wishes for Ukraine to defeat Russia on the battlefield – because both views have been expressed – then perhaps there is nothing to talk about with the West,” Lavrov said.
“Aggressors, invaders, occupants. We’ve heard quite a few such things today,” he said of the meeting.
Ultimately, the Russian envoy departed the event before it ended. According to media reports, he left the hall at the moment when Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba was speaking via video link.
Ukraine is not a member of the G20.
The Russian minister also missed a speech by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
The previous G20 meeting, which took place in April, was not productive either. The British, American and Canadian delegations left the room when Anton Siluanov, Russia’s finance minister, gave his address remotely (he wasn’t even there in person). His message, as it happens, focused on the consequences of skyrocketing energy prices and possible solutions to a problem that concerns many countries, including the Western states.
Given all this, as well as the latest developments, we wonder if the November G20 summit can yield any results.
The biggest concern so far seems to be the list of attendees. US President Joe Biden said in March that “Russia should be removed from the G20”. In June, the Italian prime-minister reported that he had it on good authority that Indonesia would not let Russia take part in the summit (this was later denied by Jakarta and Moscow). The Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese said he would treat Russian president Vladimir Putin with “the contempt he deserves”, while Ukraine's Volodomyr Zelensky was convinced that “not too many countries will come to the summit if Russia is among the attendees”.
In all fairness, alternative voices are heard as well. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example, thinks that the conflict with Russia should not be allowed to paralyze the G20, and it is not a good idea for the member states to boycott the summit because of Putin.
It is still unclear, however, if Russia plans to participate. It sounds like the Kremlin knows that a conflict would be inevitable and hasn’t made the decision on the format of Putin’s presence, if he participates at all.
What can be expected from the summit?
Russian experts express their concern that in light of all the controversies, the G20 can no longer serve as an effective organization capable of solving global problems and challenges as it has in the past.
Professor Sergey Lunev, who teaches history at Moscow's MGIMO University, told RT that the G20 would now “yield zero results”. He thinks that the situation will not change even if Russia and the West find their way out of the current conflict, because the reasons for the degradation of the G20 are more fundamental.
“We are talking about a major transformation of the global system, the economic aspects – first and foremost, the system in which the West will lose its current position. The split in the G20 is defined by the doubts in the old system where the Western countries had all the privileges and were the foundation of global economy. In this context, it is hardly possible that the G20 will have any positive impact,” says Lunev.
Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of the Higher School of Economics’ (HSE) Department of World Economy and International Affairs, is more optimistic about the G20’s prospects. He believes the organization may be able to address some of the issues on the global agenda at the upcoming summit, although not the most pressing problems.
“The opportunities for pursuing constructive partnership are now very limited. I think the G20 will come up with some final documents at this summit, as they are currently being agreed at the Sherpa level. But the overall scale of decisions produced by the summit will be significantly more modest compared to previous years. And they are likely to be worded in a more general and ambiguous way, supporting the good and opposing the evil, so to speak. Don’t expect any concrete solutions – it’s an almost impossible thing to accomplish in a situation of confrontation,” the expert says.
However, attempts to find a way out of the global crisis will be made, for sure, as the looming plight – which has not yet unfolded to its full extent, but is already felt in many countries of the world – cannot be confronted unless the world’s biggest economies combine their efforts.
This year’s agenda includes, at least, two things – the global food and energy crises. And the COVID-19 pandemic is still there, too, with Europe currently facing a new wave of the infection. And that’s not to mention the recent monkeypox outbreak and the risk of other virulent diseases that may affect the world’s populations in the future.
What broke the G20?
Let’s turn to the format's history and recall that the group first met in 1999 as a response measure the G8 devised to deal with the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. “It was back then that the US and the rest of the world finally realized that no global issues could be tackled effectively by the West alone,” Dmitry Suslov explains.
But since the crisis was already beginning to wane at the time of G20’ inaugural meeting, the new group was soon forgotten, with only fairly regular meetings of the member states’ finance ministers keeping it from falling apart completely.
But the 2008 crisis breathed new life into the Group of 20. In less than a year, its member states held three summits producing dozens of decisions designed to improve the global financial system. Experts are unanimous in recognizing the G20’s exceptional role in resolving the 2008 global financial crisis.
However, the G20 only retained its status as the world’s main crisis-response tool for less than 10 years. The Ukrainian events of 2014 were the first warning og the decrease of the G20’s effectiveness. “The G20 grew substantially less efficient, once the [American] Trump Administration reversed its policy on China [from friendly] to overtly confrontational,” says Suslov.
“Starting from 2018, it became increasingly difficult for the G20 member states to find common ground because of the American-Chinese confrontation, the US and China being the world’s two most powerful and influential countries having the biggest potential and a final say in resolving issues on the global scale. If the two key players are fighting, it’s extremely difficult to reach agreement needed to address global issues,” the expert said.
The Covid-19 pandemic revealed that the G20 had lost much of its effectiveness. This improvised crisis committee proved essentially useless in dealing with the global health crisis. The US was busy blaming the pandemic on China, and Beijing, too, was rather hostile.
“For four years already, the G20 has been unable to provide the much needed coordination between the world’s key economies. But now, the problems are going to become even worse, much worse,” Suslov predicts.
If Russia and China were kicked out, could the G20 be saved?
One solution that seems pretty obvious is that if the G20 is disrupted by the West’s conflict with Russia and China, then it probably could be mended by simply dumping these two powers and going back to business as usual without them.
The experts, however, believe that this is not going to happen.
First of all, according to MGIMO Professor Sergey Lunev, neither Russia nor China have any critical disagreements with the other parties to the G20, i.e. Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Korea and South Africa.
Moreover, he points out that these nations, on the contrary, “support Russia to varying degrees, sometimes covertly for fear of being slapped with sanctions by the West."
“We are talking about transformation of the world order and the global economy, which was the very reason the West has lost its dominant position in the first place. It’s only natural that other powers are very interested in this development, and because of that, they will continue to support Russia. It’s quite another matter that all these powers, including China, will be only happy to have Russia wrestle with the West all alone,” Lunev adds.
According to Dmitry Suslov, there is another reason why the G20 can’t go on without Russia and China, and it’s pretty simple: for the lack of resources.
“Discussing climate change, food supply, energy sources and global economy without China is as pointless as trying to discuss all that without the USA; and so is discussing global security or energy or food supply without Russia. Russia’s role is critical in these areas,” Suslov explains.
So how will global threats be handled now?
No one wins from a weaker G20, since global threats transcend borderlines. Everyone on the planet is affected by things like climate change, a global pandemic or global recession. As bad as all that is, things can only get worse when the world’s leading powers don’t see eye to eye. One example: the US government is now forced to push up local oil production and even activate frozen oil wells in order to deal with the energy shortage the US has found itself in – which is quite the opposite of what Joe Biden vowed to achieve during his election campaign on the climate change front.
While the experts have different views on how they think the world will tackle global challenges in the future, they all seem to agree on one thing, i.e. that there will be two major centers of power on the global scene in the immediate future, and they will be enacting their own, different policies.
“Non-Western alliances are gaining momentum. One example is BRICS that recently received applications to join from Iran and Argentina. Should other non-Western powers that are members of the G20 also decide to join, the world will end up having two clubs essentially: one boiling down to the G7 and representing the interests of the West, and BRICS representing the interests of all the others,” Lunev believes.
While Suslov agrees it’s true, he is also convinced that the very existence of the G20 is under no real threat in the absence of any other global organization that could claim to represent 85% of the global economy.
“It’s true that the G20 will become less efficient. It will become in essence a bipolar organization, with its two poles defined by the G7 and BRICS powers respectively. They both will be pursuing their own agendas, as well as the global agenda. They will tackle the latter from their own perspectives. The G20 itself will be trying to keep these two tracks coordinated, but how well it can do it remains to be seen,” Lunev concludes.