Apr 21, 2022 - Economy

G20 walkout ushers in new era of financial diplomacy

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Meetings of global finance ministers and central bankers tend to be polite affairs, verging upon horribly boring. But with a dramatic walkout on Wednesday, American, Canadian and some European officials showed that the schisms between Russia and Western allies are deep enough to change that.

Why it matters: The dedication of Western powers to using all economic tools available to make Russia a pariah state has become ever more evident, now backed by a vivid gesture on the biggest stage of financial diplomacy.

Driving the news: At a meeting in Washington of the finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 20 major economic powers, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, European Central Bank head Christine Lagarde, and top officials from Canada, Britain, and elsewhere stood up and walked out when it was the Russian finance minister's turn to speak.

  • "The world’s democracies will not stand idly by in the face of continued Russian aggression and war crimes," Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland said on Twitter. "Today Canada and a number of our democratic partners walked out of the G20 plenary when Russia sought to intervene."

The U.S. Treasury had been vague in the run-up to the meetings as to Yellen's degree of participation in the G20.

Between the lines: The Western powers are seeking to apply pressure on the technocrats who staff Russia's economic policy establishment, by making clear that their nation is being frozen out of the good graces of the world economic system more completely with each week that passes.

  • Stylistically, the cautious Yellen is not prone to dramatic gestures, adding to the weight of the moment.
  • The goal: To keep adding to the economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin in hopes it forces him to seek a de-escalation.
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