Who wants to hang out with the Saudi crown prince?
There are many unscripted moments at such events, and Biden isn’t known for his discipline. But given lingering tensions between Riyadh and Washington, the U.S. president is unlikely to bump fists again with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
So who will the young royal, also called MBS, hang with instead? Probably everyone else.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has so twisted the energy market that the Saudis, a leading oil producer, cannot be ignored. Even Biden ultimately had to engage him, in July, despite pressure to shun MBS over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen. That effort nonetheless failed to convince the crown prince to keep up oil output — in fact, he supported cuts.
Many other countries in the G-20 are less sentimental than America about Riyadh’s human rights record.
The crown prince will likely make a point of spending time with Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose countries are massive energy consumers. European countries, struggling with energy costs as they wean themselves off Russian supplies, will likely want a few minutes with the royal, too.
How will richer countries react to developing nations’ demands?
The G-20 is a less exclusive club than the G-7, with more economically diverse countries. That makes it more likely to succumb to fracture.
Already, as climate talks in Egypt have shown, the world’s developing nations are airing their growing fury at being forced to bear the financial and environmental costs of the energy consumption of wealthier countries.
“You are the criminal in this case, not us,” Namibian President Hage Geingob said of greenhouse gas emitter countries in a recent BBC interview.
Add the Ukraine war’s negative impact on global energy and food supplies, and the tensions are sure to color the conversations at the G-20. Already, there have been efforts by Indonesian officials to water down references to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in any joint declaration issued by the group.
Watch in particular how China responds to any demands by governments in the “Global South,” a term that includes many countries in Latin America and Africa. Beijing is not only a major emitter, it also has backed Russia in its war on Ukraine.
The United States, meanwhile, already is trying to blunt the criticism. The U.S. issued a joint statement Monday with Britain and the European Union reiterating their resolve to address the food insecurity crisis.
Will there be calls for Ukraine-Russia peace negotiations?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is likely to address the G-20 virtually, and he is sure to stress his country’s intent to decisively defeat Russia, a goal that seems more achievable by the day given Russian military retreats. Zelenskyy has laid out a list of conditions Russia must meet to end the conflict, including returning all occupied Ukrainian territory, a non-starter for Moscow.
But countries in the audience may still publicly press for negotiations to end the conflict. The G-20, after all, not only includes China, but also South Africa, Mexico and India, countries that generally have avoided picking a side but which are suffering from the war’s effects. Indonesia’s president has in the past offered to broker talks between Moscow and Kyiv.
The frustration over the war is “partly weariness of food price and energy inflation, but with South Africa and Indonesia it’s also their susceptibility to anti-Western narratives,” said Aaron Connelly, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank headquartered in London.
If some countries want to press Ukraine to sit down with Russia, they’re probably better off trying to get a word in with Biden, Kyiv’s most important benefactor. Biden, however, has suggested he’ll do whatever Ukraine wants, and many in his national security circle believe the time is not ripe for even a truce with Moscow.
What is Turkey’s leader up to?
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has run Turkey for two decades. Thanks to Russia and Ukraine, he’s found a new way to stay relevant.
The Turkish autocrat has become a critical interlocutor between Putin and Zelenskyy. He’s been selling drones and other military items to Ukraine while expanding financial ties with Russia in ways that undermine Western sanctions on Moscow. He recently helped salvage an agreement with Russia to allow Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.
The moves all appear to be in Turkey — and Erdoğan’s — interest, economically and politically. Washington may feel exasperated by Erdoğan’s overtures to the Kremlin, but the Ukrainians have at times been relieved to have Erdoğan there.
Jonathan Schanzer, an analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Turkish president “cannot be fully trusted by the Western countries seeking to bring in Erdoğan as a full partner in countering the Russian threat.”
Schanzer said no one knows what Erdoğan’s next gambit will be. Maybe someone can ask him at the G-20.
Putin may be skipping his last G-20, because he may not get another invitation.
Biden has said Russia should be booted from the group, and Ukraine has called for Moscow’s ouster as well. But Indonesia, which holds the G-20 presidency, has resisted. And other members, such as China and India — which will soon assume the group’s presidency — aren’t likely to cast Putin out.
Still, it’s worth watching whether Russia’s continued membership in the G-20 becomes a flashpoint during this month’s gathering. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to attend.