Why Was Putin Absent at the G20 Summit?


This year, the seventeenth meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) was held on Nov. 15-16, 2022 in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. On the first of December 2021, Indonesia began its role as the president of the group and hence, led up to this year’s summit in the fourth quarter of the year. Even before the summit, it was to some extent palpable that Putin was decisively going to miss out on this year’s summit.

In this regard, different viewpoints are observed from diverse value-laden perspectives in depicting the reasons behind the absence. The main concern behind his anomalistic decision not to join, which has been brought forward by the other member countries, particularly from the Western world, is the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and its grim upshots. According to the viewpoint, in case Putin joined, he might have faced backlash at the summit for launching the full-scale military offensive in Ukraine. On the other hand, the other viewpoint lays down that Putin was absent inasmuch as being entangled with ‘a busy schedule.’

G20 Forum and Russia

However, with a view to tackling major economic as well as other catastrophes in the world and making sustainable development a reality, the G20 format commenced its voyage in the late 1990s after the Asian countries had confronted a disastrous economic crisis in 1997. The then ‘Big Seven’ countries — the US, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, and Canada — realized that several large economies were out of the forum.

To substantiate the ambition effectively, later, Russia, Brazil, India and 10 more countries were incorporated into the group and thus, it had been reshaped as G20 or Group of Twenty. In the group, without any doubt, Russia can be regarded as one of the key countries that aim to work on analogous issues regarding the global crisis, sustainable energy, sustainable development and so on. By the way, Russia joined the forum in 1998 and is still considered one of the crucial members that can persuasively contribute to changing the world.

Why was Putin Absent?

Although there was much room for Russia to contribute to the discussions and address its ongoing predicaments, why Putin missed out on this year’s summit? Merely for schedule conflicts or something else? A major facet of the observers argues that Putin might have confronted ‘a storm of reprimand,’ while Russian officials defend it from a ‘schedule-conflict’ standpoint! Let’s mull over the conundrum.

The last time Putin was found passed out of sight at the high-level summit of the G20 was in 2014, immediately after the annexation of Crimea. This year, in the same manner, the 70-year-old leader chose to skip the summit and instead Sergey Lavrov, the veteran foreign minister of Russia was sent to partake. It can be argued whether Sergey Lavrov can place the position that Putin holds in the forum!

However, the activities of the G20 forum mainly aim at global crises like the Asian economic crisis of 1997, the global financial crisis of 2007, Covid-19, climate change, sustainable development and crises like the ongoing global energy crisis and disruption in the global supply chain. The ongoing crises, having no doubt, have been incited by the Ukraine war that not only broke the supply chain but also gave rise to the predicaments of the food crisis. Both countries globally share 82% of sunflower seed cake, 55% of sunflower oil, 34% wheat, 27% of barley, 17% maize and 10% of vegetable oil. Moreover, due to the Russia-Ukraine war, the whole global community is undergoing the gravest moments of the energy crisis which is resulting in massive inflation throughout the world since the market economy is highly interconnected.

However, Russia has been incriminated since the war broke out and the world started facing the grim realities of the war through the diverse crises. In this regard, since the G20 forum’s aims and objectives are broadly directed at global issues, the Russia-Ukraine war is a major concern for them, no doubt. This year’s summit was also mainly focused on the crises that have been given rise to by the war. Therefore, it was foreshadowed that Putin would not join the summit.

Dominant Viewpoint: Putin’s Fear of the Humiliation

Vladimir Putin might have been faced with a storm of condemnation in Bali, Indonesia due to the Ukraine war and its upshots. This year’s summit has been overshadowed by the military offensive in Ukraine and its outcomes, which, as a result, aggravated the food shortages and outraged the global energy markets. According to Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Global Affairs journal said that “Putin was not ready to budge over Ukraine.” He further argued that “Putin’s stance is clear. And the stance of the other side is also well-known.”

Alexei Malashenko, a leading researcher at the Dialogue of Civilisations Institute, argued that “Putin did not want to be publicly humiliated once again.” After the summit, it has been palpable that the Ukraine war has been the ‘most talked-about’ theme during the summit where the Western countries particularly the US and the UK robustly condemned Putin and his deliberate decision regarding Ukraine that ultimately shocked the whole world.

Different Viewpoint: ‘Schedule-Conflict’ and Searching for Another ‘Bloc’

However, unlike this dominant assertion, there was another reason from the side of the Kremlin which argues that “Vladimir Putin has personally decided to bypass the summit because of his busy schedule.” It also mentioned that there was “a need for him to stay in Russia” that halted the stateman not to attend.

However, for some experts, Putin is pursuing and working on a very diverse theme regarding this matter. Putin is seeking support and trying to deepen relations with the countries that rail against the reign of the US and the Western world over global politics. The founder of R.Politik, Tatiana Stanovaya, said, “Putin is trying to build an anti-Western coalition.” She further added that “Putin reckons, his repudiation to join the G20 summit will not preclude Russia from developing relations with the neutral states that want to strengthen their ties with Russia.”

What Might be the Outcome of the Repudiation from the Summit?

With the theme of “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”, the seventeenth meeting of the G20 has been held. Putin decisively did not join the meeting and did not deliver any video messages rather; Russia sent the veteran Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as their delegate to the forum. However, this is not a new scenario in the forum. In previous years many leaders like Xi Jin Ping missed out on the summit of the group due to issues like Covid-19. Although the case of Putin is very diverse and the core theme was extremely concerned with his deed, it would not extremely affect the future trajectory of the forum and Russia’s relations with it, at all.

By contrast, though Putin might have confronted a grave bunch of condemnations, he could utilize the summit by aggregating all the leaders in the common room of thoughts in bringing an end to the crises. The question arises in this regard whether Putin wants an ultimate end to the war this time! However, to some degree, it is rigorous to speculate what would be the outcome and what would be Russia’s next step regarding the forum. In this respect, if Putin goes for making a unique ‘bloc’ cutting off relations with the US-dominated groups, for instance, G20, Russia might face grave isolation from the world and a new ‘bloc politics’ may arise, as a result. Undoubtedly, this might also be a major concussion for the forum, if Russia decisively goes for building up a different bloc.

On the whole, it is obvious that Putin’s absence infers there was a fear in his mind to be humiliated by the Western leaders, while it is also argued that he has been enmeshed in ‘schedule-conflict’ and is thinking of another ‘bloc’ that would be out of the domination of the US. However, from a ‘third perspective’, it can be argued that Putin’s presence at the summit might be effective to bring about an end to the crises, even though not wholly but slightly, that would be beneficiary for the whole world particularly, for the developing countries that are enduring the grimmest upshots of the war.

– Kawsar Uddin Mahmud is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Geopolitics [Link] and Daily Observer [Link]