G20 host Indonesia waiting to see if Putin will attend summit

JAKARTA, Nov 3 (Reuters) - G20 summit host Indonesia is waiting to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend, Indonesia's foreign minister said on Thursday, adding that differences over Ukraine had made preparations for the meeting particularly fraught.

Indonesia's presidency of the G20 this year and its preparations for the Nov. 15-16 summit on Bali island have been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and resulting food and energy crisis, with the world's 20 most powerful economies disagreeing about how to respond to it.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told Reuters in an interview that Putin's attendance at the meeting might only become clear at the last minute.

"Let's wait until D-Day," she said, when asked if the Russian leader's attendance had been confirmed.

U.S. President Joe Biden is due to attend.

When Indonesia assumed the chairmanship of the G20 in December, the biggest concern was recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, she said, but that changed with Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

As G20 host, Indonesia has worked hard to bridge the divide, with President Joko Widodo visiting both Kyiv and Moscow in June and inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to attend the summit.

Zelenskiy's attendance has yet to be confirmed but Ukraine called on Tuesday for Russia to be expelled from the G20 and for Putin's invitation to the Bali summit to be revoked.

Retno, asked about that call, said it was not the prerogative of the G20 chair.

"The presidency doesn't have the right to expel, unless it's a consensus from G20 member countries," she said.

'VERY DIFFICULT'

Retno said some countries had taken a "black and white" approach to very complex issues, and in some cases group members had taken days to agree on the use of a single word.

"It's very, very, very difficult," she said of the preparations for the summit.

"I can say that Indonesia's presidency this time, maybe it's among the or maybe the most difficult of all G20's because of the geopolitical issues, economy, and others."

The grouping has failed to release joint communiques at several meetings this year, including a G20 foreign ministers' meeting in July.

A joint communique also appears unlikely at the upcoming summit, with Indonesia instead working on a "leader's declaration", two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Retno declined to directly answer questions on the likelihood of a communique, saying only that she was more concerned about the substance of the final document.

"Whatever name it adopts will contain leaders' political commitments. For us, it's better that we focus on the content. In the end, the content speaks more," she said.

Indonesia, which voted at the U.N. General Assembly in October to condemn what Russia has called its annexation of four Ukrainian territories, has maintained that the G20 should focus on economic issues.

Retno said that while discussion of the Ukraine war was inevitable, the G20 remained "intact".

Among this year's successes, she said, was a fund for future pandemics that has reached $1.4 billion, with contributions from countries such as China, the United States and the European Union.

Editing by Robert Birsel

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