India tries to keep G20 spotlight on economic fallout of Ukraine crisis

Mar 01, 2023 08:33 PM IST

The G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Bengaluru last week ended without consensus on a joint statement because of opposition from China and Russia to the inclusion of two paragraphs condemning the war and criticising Moscow’s actions.

NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday called for the G20 to focus on the economic fallout of the Ukraine crisis, especially food and energy security, on developing countries ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers of the group that is set to be divided over condemning Russia’s aggression.

A man walks past a model of G20 logo outside the finance ministry in New Delhi on March 1 (REUTERS)
A man walks past a model of G20 logo outside the finance ministry in New Delhi on March 1 (REUTERS)

Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra acknowledged at a media briefing that the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be an important part of discussions at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday, but declined to speculate whether the gathering will agree on a joint communique amid objections from China and Russia to the inclusion of any text denouncing Moscow’s actions.

The Indian side’s agenda for the meeting encapsulates priorities and concerns of the Global South, including the Ukraine crisis’s impact on food, energy and fertiliser security, sustainable development, and access to climate finance and technology, Kwatra said in response to a flurry of questions about the fallout of the war in Europe on the G20 process.

Also Read: Reaching a consensus on Ukraine war is the big challenge for G20 meeting

Referring to economic and development impacts of the war and challenges confronting developing countries, he said: “I think those are equally important to focus on, of course, along with the Russia-Ukraine conflict.”

He added, “I don’t think it would be really correct for me to prejudge the outcome of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting. Let the [participants] decide that but we are very clear that the foreign ministers should focus on all the priorities that are currently very relevant in the global context.”

The G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Bengaluru last week ended without consensus on a joint statement because of opposition from China and Russia to the inclusion of two paragraphs condemning the war and criticising Moscow’s actions. Diplomats from several G20 countries, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted it is unlikely the foreign ministers will agree on a joint communique given the sharp divisions between the G7 and the China-Russia combine.

“This war has to be condemned,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s (EU) foreign and security policy chief, told reporters. “I am sure that India’s diplomatic capacity will be used in order to make Russia understand that this war has to finish.”

The EU delegation, which is among 40 delegations attending the meeting, made it clear it wouldn’t support any statement that doesn’t include condemnation of the war.

Britain’s foreign office said foreign minister James Cleverly will “continue to call out Russian aggression in Ukraine” at the G20 meeting and urge partners to work together to tackle the most urgent global challenges.

Earlier, Russia’s foreign ministry said it will use the meeting to identify those responsible for political and economic crises confronting the world. “We intend to firmly and openly talk about the reasons and instigators of the current serious problems in world politics and the global economy,” it said in a statement.

“The destructive policy of the US and its allies has already put the world on the brink of a disaster, provoked a rollback in socio-economic development and seriously aggravated the situation of the poorest countries,” it added.

Issuing a joint communique at the foreign ministers’ meeting is optional and a similar meeting in Indonesia during July 7-8, 2022 ended without even a chair’s summary. At that time, G7 foreign ministers boycotted a dinner over Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s presence. Lavrov subsequently stormed out of a session while his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock was speaking.

India has so far refrained from publicly criticising Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and it has abstained during voting on Ukraine-related resolutions at UN bodies, including the UN General Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution that again called on Russia to immediately withdraw all its military forces from Ukraine.

Kwatra summed up India’s position on the Ukraine conflict by pointing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at Samarkand last year – that this is not the era of war – and the country’s consistent call for the crisis to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. These factors shaped India’s contributions to the consensus forged at the last G20 summit in Bali, he said.

“Clearly for us, questions relating to food, energy and fertiliser security, the impact that the conflict has on these economic and emerging threats, the problem of counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics, the issues we face on the reform of multilateralism – each one of them is a very significant and substantial issue which is absolutely crucial for the Global South,” Kwatra said.

India has positioned itself as the voice of the Global South in the G20 process and convened a virtual summit of 125 developing states in January to gather their concerns and expectations from the G20. People familiar with the matter said there is no question of India moving back from the joint statement issued at the Bali summit, part of which was replicated in the chair’s summary issued in Bengaluru.

The first of two sessions on Thursday to be chaired by external affairs minister S Jaishankar will focus on strengthening multilateralism and the need for reforms, food and energy security and development cooperation. The second session will discuss counter-terrorism and new and emerging threats, global skill mapping, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

This agenda also reflects India’s priorities such as inclusive and resilient growth, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), green development and sustainable lifestyles, technological transformation, joint work by the G20 on public digital infrastructure, and women-led development.

Former ambassador Talmiz Ahmad said the G20 is getting bogged down in the confrontation between the US-led G7 and China and Russia. “Let’s be very objective and clear – the West led by the US wants to confront China and Russia, which it sees as an existential threat because they are mobilising support for a new world order. The West is unwilling to countenance any challenge and their concerns over Ukraine supersede all other concerns,” he said.

The West also has “no interest in the global economic issues raised by developing countries” and the way out for India is to focus on South-South cooperation. “But this should be a sincere effort and seen through by using multilateral bodies that represent the Global South,” Ahmad said.

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