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"Dear G19"

Sonja Dobson,
G20 Research Group, December 8, 2022

Despite how busy he has been recently, on November 15, 2022, Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky made time to give a virtual speech to the G20 leaders meeting in Bali for their annual summit. After liberating Kherson, Zelensky visited the city and raised the Ukrainian flag. He also praised the United Nations General Assembly resolution to hold Russia accountable for violations of international law in Ukraine, including by paying war reparations. Among the G20 members, Russia voted against this resolution and China, India and South Africa abstained.

Zelensky told the "dear G19" leaders that "Ukraine should not be offered to conclude compromises with its conscience, sovereignty, territory and independence" and that "there are and cannot be any excuses for nuclear blackmail." Zelensky spoke about radiation and nuclear safety, food security, energy security, the release of the prisoners of war, the importance of following the UN charter and the withdrawal of Russian forces. He called on Russia to withdraw forces from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and return control to the International Atomic Energy Agency and Ukraine. He mentioned extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was set to expire on November 19. To ensure Ukraine is able to export electricity, Zelensky asked for increased support to protect its skies given that Russia has destroyed nearly half its energy infrastructure. He requested the return of military, civilians and children. He also proposed that the world endorse the establishment of a Special Tribunal on Russia's war crimes.

The G20 has been outspoken about the illegal war being waged in Ukraine by Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. At the G20 joint finance and agriculture ministers' meeting on October 13, the ministers stated that "many members expressed the view that Russia's war against Ukraine is exacerbating global food insecurity" and called for an end to the war. At their fourth meeting the day before, G20 finance ministers and central bank governors "strongly condemned Russia's war against Ukraine and expressed the view that Russia's illegal, unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine is impairing the global economic recovery." Ukraine also attended the second and third finance ministers and central bank governors meeting. Other G20 minister meetings acknowledged and condemned the war waged by Russia, but theirs was not the right platform to discuss it further.

Specifically regarding China's position on Russia's war in Ukraine, President Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden "reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won" and "underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine." Xi encouraged peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, as well as dialogue between the United States, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union with Russia. In the beginning, China questioned the use of the word "invasion" to describe Russia's actions and referred to Russia's "legitimate security concerns," albeit supporting negotiations to resolve "the conflict between Ukraine and Russia." Although China has abstained from condemning Russia's actions, it has not been supplying Russia with weapons or supplies for the war in Ukraine. However, on the eve of the G20 Bali Summit, China's attitude toward Russia's war in Ukraine has become much more in line with the attitude of the rest of the G20 as Chinese officials now say that Putin did not tell Xi the truth about the Ukraine invasion.

As China's approach to Russia's illegal war in Ukraine did an about-face on the eve of the G20, the question was whether this switch was flipped by the G20 or by external reasons such as the recent announcement that Russia has been discussing the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The reason why should become clearer in both the communiqué and the days following the summit. If China continues to strengthen its support for Ukraine and criticism of Russia, it will be a good indicator of the G20's influence on China in this situation. Although it is unlikely that China will publicly condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine, the threat of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine could be push China away from abstaining from matters to do with the war. That is not to say that China will continue to follow this narrative, as it has been demonstrated that China can change direction.

On the evening of the first day of the G20 Bali Summit, as the leaders gathered for their dinner, Russian-made missiles fell onto Polish soil, a NATO member. The missiles landed 6.4 kilometres west of Ukraine's border, killing two, while Russia was launching its largest campaign of missile attacks in over a month. Poland and NATO said this was in fact an air defence move by Ukraine in response to Russia's attack. Nonetheless, on November 16, G7 and NATO leaders after meeting on the margins of the G20 Bali Summit to discuss the situation, released a statement that condemned Russia's "barbaric missile attacks" and reaffirmed "steadfast support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the face of ongoing Russian aggression."

The conclusion of the Bali Summit resulted in a consensus communiqué, which was not a certainty at the start of the summit. The G20 Bali Leaders' Declaration recognized UN Resolution No. ES-11/1, which "deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine." Most G20 members strongly condemned Russia's war in Ukraine and stated that while they recognized "that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy." They also stated that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is "inadmissible." The Bali declaration made it clear that the G20 leaders support Ukraine and that Russia's influence on other G20 members has wavered with the publication of this consensual communiqué.

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Sonja DobsonSonja Dobson is pursuing a PhD in peace and conflict studies at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. She holds a master's degree in conflict studies and human rights from Utrecht University and a bachelor of arts and science in African studies and political science from the University of Toronto. Sonja has worked with the G20, G7 and BRICS Research Groups since 2015, currently serving as co-chair of summit studies for the G20 Research Groups. Follow her at @SAT_Dobson.

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