The UK, US and Canada have staged a coordinated walkout of a G20 meeting in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, amid growing risks of division between leading nations hitting the world economy.
Representatives from the three countries left the session as Russian delegates spoke at the meeting in Washington. Sources said the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, and a senior Treasury official were among those to leave the talks.
The walkout at the session, which was taking place on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s spring meetings, came amid growing fears that a breakdown in international relations would severely undermine the global economy’s recovery from the pandemic and add to soaring inflation, pushing millions more people into poverty worldwide.
In comments made shortly before the protest, the head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, warned 75 years of development gains were being put at risk by a splintering of international cooperation.
Asked about reports of a potential walkout at the G20 meeting, Georgieva said the world had reached a “watershed moment” for global partnerships to tackle a range of issues including the pandemic, war in Ukraine, the climate emergency and rising poverty.
“There are clearly very, very unsettling facts we have to deal with. I can say honestly I never thought that I would live through another war in Europe on the scale this one takes place,” she said.
“We also recognise how interdependent we are. Just make the list of questions – no country can solve [them] on its own. It is so obvious that cooperation must and will continue.”
The walkout came as western leaders challenged Russia’s membership of the G20 group of leading economies, which includes the US, UK, France and Germany, as well as powerful developing countries including China, Brazil and India.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, tweeted that UK representatives had walked out of the meeting. “We are united in our condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and will push for stronger international coordination to punish Russia,” he said.
Sources said the UK, US and other western nations were pushing for a consensus position on Russia’s continued membership of the G20 and had questioned the attendance of Kremlin representatives.
The US Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, told attendees she disapproved of a senior Russian official’s presence, according to Reuters. The US Treasury said earlier on Wednesday that Yellen met with Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the finance minister of Indonesia – which currently holds the rotating presidency of the G20 – to emphasise that there would “be no business-as-usual for Russia in the global economy”.
Mohamed El-Erian, a former deputy director of the IMF who is now president of Queens’ College, Cambridge, said the flare-up showed the G20 was not functioning as an international body.
“The future of multilateralism is at risk at a time when we need it most,” El-Erian said as he called on governments to continue to work together through alternative means.
“The G20 is too divided, and lacks continuity. Its always been a puzzle to me why it doesn’t have a secretariat. You go through presidency by presidency – it changes every time. So very little gets done,” he said.
“The one exception was the April 2009 London summit under Gordon Brown, that was the one exception. The G7 is too narrow in terms of membership. In terms of your existing tools it is a reformed and revamped IMF and World Bank.”
The IMF said on Tuesday that risks to the global economy were growing as Russia’s war in Ukraine drove up inflation.
The Washington-based fund said the war had increased the risk of a more permanent fragmentation of the global economy into geopolitical blocs. Such a “tectonic shift” would entail high adjustment costs for the global economy, it said.