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Yellen, BoE's Bailey, Canada's Freeland walk out of G20 meeting as Russians speak

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) -Top finance officials from Britain, the United States and Canada walked out of Wednesday’s G20 meeting as Russian representatives spoke, UK finance minister Rishi Sunak said, exposing deepening divisions over Russia’s continued presence in the body.

FILE PHOTO: Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey speaks during a news conference at Bank of England in London, Britain February 3, 2022. Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS

Ukraine officials in attendance also walked out of the meeting of top finance officials from the world’s 20 largest economies, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

“Earlier my representatives, along with US & Canadian counterparts left today’s G20 meeting in Washington as Russian delegates spoke,” Sunak said on Twitter. “We are united in our condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and will push for stronger international coordination to punish Russia.”

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov attended the meeting in person, while Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Russia’s central bank governor joined virtually, a second source said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told attendees she strongly disapproved of a senior Russian official’s presence at the meeting, two of the sources told Reuters.

One source added that Yellen told participants there could be “no business-as-usual” for Russia in the global economy, echoing her message to Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, whose government is heading the G20 group this year. Indrawati is due to hold a news conference on Wednesday.

Yellen was joined in her walkout by Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey and Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, among others.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, meanwhile, urged Maksimov to convey to Moscow a clear message – to end the war in Ukraine, one of the sources said.

G20 finance ministers and central bank governors met on the sidelines of a semi-annual conference held by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, with the Ukraine war, food security and ongoing recovery from the coronavirus pandemic the key topics.

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Yellen plans to boycott two G20 sessions on the international financial architecture and sustainable finance, one of the source said, although Treasury officials said she would join a discussion of the Ukraine war’s impact on the global economy.

Finance leaders from a number of European countries planned to follow suit in protest of Russia’s invasion.

Freeland, who is of Ukrainian descent and has made impassioned pleas on behalf of the country, planned to “boycott any sessions where the Russians try to speak,” a Canadian government official said.

Freeland, who is also Canada’s deputy prime minister, said she walked out of a G20 plenary meeting to protest against Russia’s participation.

“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,” she said on Twitter, adding that Russia should not be participating.

“The world’s democracies will not stand idly by in the face of continued Russian aggression and war crimes. Today Canada and a number of our democratic partners walked out of the G20 plenary when Russia sought to intervene.”

FRAGMENTATION FEARS

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Wednesday acknowledged it was a “difficult moment” for the G20, a forum that has played a key role in coordinating the fight against COVID-19 and responding to the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

But she insisted that cooperation through the forum would continue.

“There are clearly very, very unsettling facts we have to deal with,” said Georgieva, a Bulgarian native. “But we also recognize how interdependent we are … And it is so obvious that cooperation must and will continue.”

Georgieva and Yellen have warned against a fragmentation of the global economy into geopolitical blocs, with the United States and market-driven democracies on one side and China, Russia and other state-driven economies on another.

Separately, the United States announced new sanctions on a Russian commercial bank, an oligarch and dozens of individuals, according to the U.S. Treasury Department website.

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