India faces uphill task of forging consensus on Ukraine war ahead of G20 meet
India will host the G20 Summit in New Delhi during September 9-10 and all key meetings held so far, including those of finance and foreign ministers.
With two months to go for the G20 Summit, Indian negotiators are faced with an uphill task in forging consensus on outcome documents because of sharp differences on the exact wording of the text to refer to the Ukraine crisis, people familiar with the matter said.
India will host the G20 Summit in New Delhi during September 9-10 and all key meetings held so far, including those of finance and foreign ministers, have not produced consensus documents because of opposition from Russia and China to any text referring to the Ukraine conflict.
Ahead of the summit, the Indian side is looking to the G20 sherpas’ meeting to be held in Hampi, Karnataka, during July 14-15 and further meetings of sherpas and foreign ministers to be held immediately ahead of the summit to build on efforts to reach some form of compromise on outcome documents.
The sherpas are expected to start putting together the final pieces of the outcome documents during the upcoming meeting though it remains to be seen whether they can take forward efforts to reach common ground or compromise language for referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the people said.
The Indian side made a major push for compromise at the G20 development ministers’ meeting in Varanasi during June 11-13, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar himself playing a role in these efforts, but Russia and China stuck to their position that language used to refer to the Ukraine crisis in the G20 leaders’ declaration at last year’s summit in Bali, Indonesia, can no longer be used as the situation on the ground has changed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion that this is “not an era of war” found an echo in the declaration issued at the G20 Summit in Bali. The communique said most G20 members “strongly condemned the war in Ukraine” and stressed it was heightening energy and food insecurity, but it added that there were also “other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.
The people said G20 members came close to some arrangement on a compromise text at Varanasi, but these efforts fell through because of the position adopted by Russia. The Russian side insisted there should be no mention whatsoever of Ukraine in any text and this stymied efforts to reach a compromise, they said.
“The Russian leadership has taken a position that there can’t be any reference to Ukraine and their negotiators are unwilling or unable to deviate from this line,” a person familiar with the negotiations said on condition of anonymity.
Such a line is unacceptable to G7 member states, which have even raised the Ukraine crisis at a meeting of G20 education ministers, a second person said. The Chinese side has usually acted in concert with Russia and backed Moscow’s position in negotiations, the people said.
The chair’s summary issued by India at the development ministers’ meeting in Varanasi stated Russia “disassociated itself from the status of this document as a common outcome” because of references to the Ukraine war in two paragraphs, while China said the “meeting outcome should not include any reference to the Ukraine crisis”.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said the two big concerns for India ahead of the G20 Summit are producing consensus outcome documents and confirmation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presence at the meeting.
“The Indian side had been hoping to produce a consensus document on the lines of what emerged in Bali. It will now be delighted even if it can match the Bali declaration,” Bhatia said. “The second worry is the attendance of President Putin, especially given his domestic pre-occupations and the possibility of an adverse reaction from the G7 to his presence.”
The Russian side has been tight-lipped about Putin’s presence at the G20 Summit, with officials saying an announcement will be made closer to the date of the meeting. A question mark also hangs over Putin’s presence at the Brics (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) Summit in Johannesburg in August.
The people cited above said the upcoming sherpas’ meeting can help in taking forward other areas of importance to the Indian side, such as concerns of the Global South and New Delhi’s push for its digital public infrastructure, and that a final push at the level of the political leadership may be needed for consensus outcomes.
Bhatia added, “India can still achieve a considerable amount in areas that are important to it, but whether the final outcome is better than, or even as good as, the outcome in Bali was in terms of consensus remains to be seen.”