The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Western leaders walk out as Russian officials address G-20

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Fed Chair Jerome Powell among those leaving meeting after Ukraine makes direct plea for aid

Activists wearing masks with the likenesses of German officials demonstrate in Berlin this month in support of an embargo on Russian oil and gas. (Fabian Sommer/DPA/AP)
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At least a half-dozen world leaders, including officials with the U.S. and Ukrainian governments, walked out of a Group of 20 meeting in Washington on Wednesday when Russian officials began to speak, several people familiar with the matter said.

Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko also made a direct plea for world leaders to provide his country with more financial aid, shortly before he left the meeting along with the Western officials.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell were among the global economic leaders who left when Russian officials began talking, the people said. Among the others exiting the meeting were Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister of Canada; Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank; and senior economic officials from the Netherlands, England, France and Germany, the people familiar with the issue said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting. Freeland also later publicly posted a photo of some of the officials who walked out.

The dramatic departures reflected the turmoil facing world leaders over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While a number of nations joined the walkout, several other members of the G-20 — including China and India — did not. The fissures put on full display the growing global divide over whether and how to ostracize Russia from the international community over the war.

Marchenko asked world leaders to give Ukraine 10 percent of their allocation of special drawing rights — a reserve asset distributed by the International Monetary Fund that can be traded for dollars — to help the country survive the next three months of the war, according to a transcript of his remarks shared with The Washington Post. Ukraine has also said countries can help support it through financing programs at the World Bank or direct grants.

Marchenko told world leaders that Russia is a disease for the international economy and Ukraine is “those immunity cells that have to be activated by good international medicine to kill the disease. And there is no way out. Otherwise, infection will spread and contamination will begin.”

“It was my plea for them: We don’t ask you to support Ukraine for a long period of time; this is a temporary solution to help us win the war,” Marchenko said in a separate interview after the meeting, warning of that the Ukrainian government will have to make severe budget cuts should international aid fail to materialize.

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International finance ministers typically gather to discuss potential avenues for cooperation on global development, taxes, agriculture and a range of other issues. But the proceedings thus far this year have been disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and debate about how the world should respond.

After the meeting, Freeland said on Twitter: “This week’s meetings in Washington are about supporting the world economy — and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is a grave threat to the global economy. Russia should not be participating or included in these meetings.”

The G-20 does not currently have a process for expelling members, and, even if it did, many of the organization’s non-Western members have made clear they would resist booting Russia. Still, many of the nations opposed to Russia’s invasion are seizing on the G-20 as an opportunity to make clear the extent of their displeasure with Moscow’s actions. Freeland told Russian staff members attending the conference in person that they were serving a government that had committed war crimes, according to two of the officials familiar with what occurred in the meeting. Freeland also said the Russians should either persuade President Vladimir Putin to end the war or leave their government positions, the people said. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, who was placed under financial sanctions by the U.S. government earlier this year over the war, spoke at the conference remotely.

U.S. and British officials had been expected to shun their Russian counterparts. But the participation in the walkout by leaders from other nations reflected the degree of transatlantic unity against the war. Some of the officials attending the G-20 meeting virtually turned off their cameras when Russian officials spoke, two of the people said.

Still, several governments declined to participate in the walkout. The Italians opted not to participate because Italy belongs to the G-20′s rotating leadership “troika,” consisting of the organization’s current host and the immediate past and next hosts, according to a G-20 government official with knowledge of the session, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. That group is committed to keeping the G-20 open as an international forum, rather than closed.

The Treasury Department also announced additional sanctions on Wednesday, imposing new restrictions on the Russian commercial bank Transkapitalbank and a global network led by a Russian oligarch.

After the G-20 meeting, Yellen released a statement to the supervisory committee of the International Monetary Fund — which world leaders are also in Washington to attend — calling on the global financial community to respond to Russia’s invasion.

“Russia’s war against Ukraine has imperiled the global recovery from the pandemic and aggravated inflation, with vulnerable populations across the world feeling the effects of steeply rising food prices,” her statement said. “Over the last two years, international financial institutions have provided unprecedented financing in response to COVID-19. Now, they must step in to help low-income and developing countries respond to food and energy shocks caused by the war, address the expanding refugee crisis in Europe, and bolster and rebuild an independent Ukraine.”

Rachel Siegel and Loveday Morris contributed to this report.

correction

An earlier version of this article misstated the day the meetings took place. It was Wednesday, not Thursday.

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