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Awkward: Putin and Zelensky both invited to G20

Sarah Silbiger, Pool via AP

When the G-20 meets in Bali this November, we may see some of the usual crowds of anarchists demonstrating outside of the event. That’s become a fixture of all G-20 meetings these days. But this edition could feature something more interesting inside of the hall than the usual rounds of panels discussing aid and monetary policy. Indonesia’s president announced yesterday that both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky have been invited to the party and, perhaps more surprisingly, both men accepted the invitation. Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like there could be some seriously awkward moments during the brunch ceremonies, right? I mean, it was already going to be pretty uncomfortable for any of the leaders whose countries have placed massive sanctions on Russia to just stroll up and shake hands with Mad Vlad. But adding Zelensky into the mix really turns all the knobs up to eleven. (Yahoo News)

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo says that both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to attend the Group of 20 (G-20) summit to be held in Bali in November.

Widodo, the current chair of the G-20, made the remarks in a televised statement on Friday in which he said that he had telephone conversations this week with Zelensky and Putin. He said he urged both leaders of Ukraine and Russia to end the war through negotiations.

“I reiterated the importance of ending the war immediately,” he said. “I also emphasized that peaceful efforts should continue and Indonesia is ready to contribute to these peaceful efforts.”

The Indonesian president is probably in one of the least awkward positions. They have not provided any military equipment to Ukraine, but they have offered humanitarian aid instead. Putin is mostly angry at the countries that are sending in tanks, planes, rockets, and ammunition. He sees that as an “escalation” of the violence, which would be hilarious if there weren’t so many people dying. But Indonesia has largely remained on the sidelines in that regard.

What happens if the war is still going on in November? That seemed unthinkable when all of this began, but at this point, I’m no longer so sure. Even if Russia manages to take the Donbas region and hold onto the territory without looking to expand to the west, they will still very likely be fighting an insurgency in that region for the rest of the year. So the war will still be taking place even if it officially looks like it’s “over.”

The only members of the G-20 who are even close to siding with Russia in this mess are China (not very loudly) and possibly Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Everyone else is imposing massive sanctions, closing their airspace to Russian air traffic, and condemning Putin on a daily basis. Are they really all just going to show up, shake Putin’s hand and ask him to pass the foie gras? This brings us back to a question I’ve been asking for the last month. Even if the fighting in Ukraine somehow ends this year in any fashion other than a complete withdrawal by the Russian forces (which looks increasingly unlikely to happen), what happens when it’s over? Does everyone just go back to their usual foreign policy positions and act like this never happened? Will Russia just be welcomed back into the fold? Inviting Putin to the G-20 certainly sounds like plans for some sort of “normalization” are in the works.

And while we’re on the subject, why was Zelensky invited? The G-20 is supposed to be a meeting of the global economic powers where they work together on global issues. Ukraine is not a member. They are arguably one of the countries most in need of financial help from the organization on a regular basis. I realize that everyone is currently treating Zelensky like he’s the second coming of Elvis or something, but his current rockstar status doesn’t suddenly make his generally impoverished country G-20 material.

The White House has already released a statement saying that Putin should not be invited to the G-20 this year. (One area where I tend to agree with them.) Other nations have taken a similar view. Concerns have been expressed that Biden and Putin might get into some sort of “showdown” if they are forced to greet each other there. Adding Zelenski into the mix just seems like a deliberate attempt to throw gasoline on the fire.