Alongside meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, taken place from 18 to 24 April, Washington saw an attempt to keep the G20 working. The Indonesian presidency of the Group was not enough to avoid the Russian presence from effectively blocking any work, with a boycott by representatives from the USA and other nations that placed strong statements on record condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Since Italy held the presidency of the G20 during the previous turn, it is a member of the Troika that ensures continuity of what is done from one year to the next, working with Indonesia and India, which will hold the G20 presidency in 2023. So, Italy also has some responsibility for managing a problem that seems impossible to resolve.
Multilateral cooperation at risk
The problems are made more acute by two leading G20 members, China and India, abstaining from the UN resolution condemning the invasion. Their involvement in the G20 could lead to disputes. As noted above, India will hold the presidency in 2023.
The next two presidencies after that are, at present, Brazil, which voted for the resolution condemning the invasion, and South Africa (2025), which also abstained. This could compromise a forum for multilateral cooperation that we had come to consider as essential.
After taking important decisions to manage the 2008/9 crisis, the G20 had slipped back into being relatively ineffective, but it has looked more promising in handling the pandemic. During the Italian presidency, following that of Saudi Arabia, some key ideas were developed to alleviate the debt of the poorest countries and to create multi-year agendas to manage major global economic and political transitions (relating to energy/climate/environment, healthcare, digital and distribution).
Towards new forms of dialogue?
Will the Ukraine tragedy cause the G20 to fail? The Indonesian presidency has to make an "institutional" attempt to avoid as much. Italy and India, as Troika members, must provide concrete support for such reflection. The radical failure of the G20 would probably result in the G7 playing a bigger role and potentially enlarging (to include at least Australia and South Korea) and foster the growing opposition between the most "developed western" nations and the rest of the world.
In the best case scenario, this could develop into four-way meetings, with the USA, the EU, China and India, with Africa and South America present through representatives of theirs unions of States. But this could develop more into opposition, rather than cooperation between different parts of the world.
Possibility of a G-19
Perhaps there is some way for the G20 to reach urgent decisions, with agreement even being reached by sides with differing views on the Ukraine war. It would be extremely difficult to get Russia's agreement, but it would not be impossible to have a 19 - 1 vote on some essential matters (while China and India would prevent any redefinition of the G20 without Russia).
Italy could act so as to ensure the G7, which is currently working under the German presidency, officially presses the G20 (obviously all its members are part of it) to move forward with a very narrow but crucial agenda. More specifically, this could cover a healthcare agenda and, on the finance track, the debt of the world's poorest nations. It would be especially good if it were possible to get China on board for a limited programme, as China showing willingness should convince the USA that it is worth continuing to keep the G20 alive, despite Russia.