Rishi Sunak to become first British PM to meet Russia since war began - what will he say?

Rishi Sunak is preparing to meet the Kremlin and world leaders like Joe Biden for the first time at the summit. Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak sees the G20 summit in Indonesia as an opportunity to call out Vladimir Putin’s “barbarism” and force Russia to confront the global suffering caused by its “senseless campaign of violence”, sources in Downing Street have told us.

They say the PM's message - at a summit where he will meet President Joe Biden for the first time - will be focused on the economic impact of what is happening in Ukraine, and in particular his argument that "every household on the planet" is feeling the impact of Putin's war.

In particular, world leaders will be discussing how we can tackle food insecurity and soaring energy prices at a global level.

But here is the challenge for negotiators representing the group's 20 members (far more than 20 countries as one is the EU) as they try to come with a unanimous agreement.

Joe Biden and other world leaders are preparing for tough negotiations with Russia sat at the table. Credit: AP

How do they draw up a communique on how to best protect the planet from the impacts of the war in Ukraine when Russia is one of the signatories sitting at the table?

Sources in Bali - close to those who have been locked in negotiations all weekend - tell me that as of Sunday evening they are not feeling optimistic. In fact, they tell me this could be the first time in the G20's history that wording is not agreed.

The fact that Putin isn't there clearly helps somewhat - but with Sergey Lavrov coming in his place, it will still be the first meeting for a British PM with a representative of the Russian regime since the war began.

Sergey Lavrov, who is heading to G20 in Putin's place, touching down in Indonesia ahead of the summit. Credit: AP

But leaders like Mr Sunak will not want to take a soft stance on Russia simply to achieve consensus. And the suggestion he wants to use this stage to call out "barbarism" shows that.

Mr Sunak is putting forward a five point economic plan that includes calling for an end to the "weaponisation" of food production and distribution - a clear attack of Russia previously blocking grain from leaving Ukraine. And he says countries must strengthen their energy security and become less dependent on Russian gas.

The PM is also arguing for government support to be directed at the most vulnerable - at home but also internationally. He also calls for finance to be provided to developing countries to support them in their debt - something that could be opposed back home given the economic crisis facing Britain itself.

And finally he calls for global trade to be opened up.

Russia's attendance in Bali has both positive and negative ramifications. It means that agreement will be very difficult to achieve - but it also means that the country most responsible for the problems will face direct challenge from countries across the world.

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