The time has come to bring the war in Ukraine to an end, Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told G20 leaders in a video address, but he added this was only possible if Russia affirmed the full territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Addressing world leaders in Bali in his now trademark green T-shirt, he said: “I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be ended. It will save thousands of lives.”
Speaking in Ukrainian to the single most influential audience he has addressed since the war started, Zelenskiy tried to pitch himself as a man prepared to reach an agreement with Russia, but only on terms that protected Ukrainian sovereignty.
Speaking to China’s Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden, but not to the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, he said: “There are and cannot be any excuses for nuclear blackmail”, and pointedly thanked the “G19” – excluding Russia – for “making this clear”. Zelenskiy accused Russia of trying to build a radioactive bomb at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that could explode at any moment.
The Ukrainian president also accused Russia – represented at the summit by its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, rather than Putin – of trying to turn “the cold into a weapon” with a campaign of strikes against key infrastructure. “If Russia is trying to deprive Ukraine, Europe and all energy consumers in the world of predictability and price stability, the answer to this should be a forced limitation of export prices for Russia,” he said.
The Ukrainian leader also called for the expansion and indefinite extension of a grain deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that will expire on Saturday.
Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain producers, and the Russian invasion had blocked 20m tonnes of grain in its ports until the deal was reached in July. Russia says the export deal has been only partially implemented.
“I believe our export grain initiative deserves an indefinite extension, no matter when the war ends,” Zelenskiy said, urging its expansion to other ports.
Speaking with the authority of a leader who had just recaptured Kherson, the single largest town occupied by Russia since the war started, he said that when all Russia’s warlike actions were brought to an end a negotiated document should be published setting out how peace will be maintained. That agreement would have to contain effective measures to ensure the future security of Ukraine, he said.
The Ukrainian president said such an agreement could be signed at an international conference, adding that Russia would be required to hand over some of its assets as compensation for the task of rebuilding Ukraine.
He reiterated that peace was not possible until Russia had withdrawn all armed troops from Ukrainian territory, and had also reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Russia.
The speech came amid a push by western leaders to try to corner and isolate Russia by saying Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has led to the world crisis in food security, mounting debt and rampant inflation.
US officials were confident that the gathering would condemn Russia’s war in the strongest possible terms. “The G20 will make clear that Russia’s war is wreaking havoc for people everywhere and for the global economy as a whole,” the official said. Most G20 nations agreed the war in Ukraine was “the root of the economic suffering and instability that we see in many parts of the world”, the official added.
Joko Widodo, the president of host country Indonesia, told G20 members to “end the war” as he opened the summit on Tuesday. “Being responsible means creating not zero-sum situations, being responsible here also means that we must end the war. If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward,” he told leaders ahead of the summit’s opening session.
Indonesia had been pressing the west to tone down its criticisms of Russia to prevent the summit failing to reach agreement on wider issues. Indonesia is desperate to avoid walkouts or rows that lead to a failure to agree a joint communique. But official level progress on the communique was made at the eve of summit talks on the rain-lashed resort on Monday.
Lavrov, the veteran Russian foreign minister, is representing Putin, who pulled out fearing he was facing a two-day harangue from western leaders. Putin is also under growing criticism from his ally China over his frequent threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Ahead of the summit, the US, EU and UK issued a joint statement trying to counter Russian claims that the deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grains through the Black Sea has been undermined by a failure of the west to lift indirect sanctions on exports of Russian fertilisers.
The grain deal, negotiated jointly by Turkey and the UN in July, has been a rare patch of diplomatic sunlight, but is up for renewal on Friday. Russia and Ukraine account for roughly 30% of all wheat and barley exports, a fifth of maize, and more than half of all sunflower oil.
The deal allowing exports past the Russian navy from three Ukrainian seaports has been critical to lowering grain prices.
But Russia claims the deal is lop-sided because western sanctions have indirectly continued to cast a shadow over the exports of Russian grain by affecting payments, insurance and shipping. The Russian foreign ministry has insisted that only ensuring unhindered access of its food and fertilisers to world markets will make it possible to achieve price stabilisation and guarantee future harvests. Russia has already suspended its cooperation once.
Russia also claims Ukrainian grain that has been exported has almost exclusively gone to wealthy European markets rather than poorer countries. It is touting a rival plan to provide grain free to the world’s poorest countries.
Many Russian banks were disconnected from the Swift financial messaging system earlier this year, making it difficult to carry out direct settlements for exports. Russia wants its main agricultural lender, Rosselkhozbank, to be reconnected.
The dispute over the future of the grain deal is part of a wider diplomatic battle between Russia and the west to convince sceptics in the global south that right is on their side. Ukraine chalked up a victory when the UN general assembly voted on Monday night by 94 to 17 to require Russia to pay reparations for its invasion of Ukraine. A total of 73 abstained, showing the large constituency that fear reparations will delay a peace deal.
In a sign of the intensity of the diplomatic battle, French president Emmanuel Macron met leaders from South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Senegal and Rwanda on the sidelines of the Bali summit. He also held talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. He told him it was in China’s interests to push Putin back into talks.
Macron again said he would be in touch with Putin after the G20 summit, and wanted diplomacy to succeed. Some western leaders tout diplomacy because they genuinely believe it may bring peace, and others because they know the global south wants to see diplomacy tried.