Modi calls for unity but G20 fails to reach consensus on global issues
NEW DELHI – The foreign ministers of the world’s 20 largest economies failed on Thursday to reach consensus on a wide-reaching agenda addressing poverty, corruption and counterterrorism because of persistent disagreements over the war in Ukraine, a blow to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had urged nations to set aside their differences.
“We couldn’t get everyone on the same table because of the ongoing conflict,” said Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the top diplomat for India, which holds the Group of 20 presidency.
India’s populist leader hoped to unite participating countries behind common goals on food and energy security, disaster relief and development. But the world’s most powerful adversaries clashed bitterly over the Ukraine conflict and offered dueling visions for how the war should end.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who for the first time since the conflict began a year ago met face-to-face with his Russian counterpart on the event’s sidelines, said the gathering was “marred” by Moscow’s “unprovoked and unjustified war.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of turning the meeting into a “farce.”
In a document summarizing the meeting, the Indian government said “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”
It noted, however, that there were “other views” as well as a recognition that “the G-20 is not the forum to resolve security issues.”
The differences meant the meeting did not result in a joint communique signed by all members of the G-20, whose countries account for 85 percent of the world’s economic output and two-thirds of its population.
The same dispute thwarted a consensus at a meeting last week of G-20 finance ministers – an outcome Modi sought to avoid by appealing to diplomats to draw on the inspiration of Buddha and Mohandas Gandhi, and “focus not on what divides but on what unites us.”
“We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together, to come in the way of those we can,” he said.
After the meeting, Modi’s top diplomat said that “multilateralism is in crisis.”
Blinken, for his part, said the gathering reinforced the broad agreement among world powers rather than discord. “Russia and China were the only two countries that made clear that they would not sign on to that text,” he said at a news conference after the gathering.
While very little amity was on display, the encounter between Blinken and Lavrov offered what a White House official later characterized as an “opportunity” to tell the Kremlin that “we’re going to continue to support Ukraine.” Increasingly, there is vocal skepticism within a segment of the Republican Party, and among some Democrats, about the volume of aid Washington has authorized to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.
The two adversaries engaged on the sidelines of the conference for less than 10 minutes, officials said. It was not a “pre-scheduled, long bilateral kind of a meeting,” John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, told reporters. U.S. officials said Blinken emphasized Washington’s support for a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine that maintains the country’s territorial integrity.
“He stressed that Ukraine and the United States want this war to end on that basis . . . but what has been missing is a similar determination from Moscow,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussion.
Blinken also urged Russia to reverse its decision to suspend cooperation in the New START nuclear arms agreement and accept a U.S. proposal for the release of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, the official said. Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran, is imprisoned in Russia after a court found him guilty of espionage, a charge that he and the U.S. government have called baseless.
“We want Paul Whelan back,” Kirby said, describing Blinken’s message to Lavrov. “We’ve got a proposal on the table and they ought to take it.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the encounter took place at Blinken’s request while Lavrov was “on the go.”
“There were no negotiations,” she told Tass, the Russian government news agency.
Modi’s government has been heavily advertising its role as host of the G-20 as part of a campaign to rally domestic political support and portray India as a geopolitical heavyweight, particularly among countries in the global south, a term used to describe the parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America that rely on wealthier nations for economic support. As U.S.-China relations have frayed, India has positioned itself as a key player in global supply chains and international diplomacy.
Throughout the gathering, Russia, China and the United States endeavored to promote their respective initiatives aimed at ending a conflict that has significantly increased food and energy prices around the world.
Lavrov, for instance, used his remarks to “apologize” to representatives from the developing world for the “indecent behavior of a number of Western delegations” whose remarks on the Ukraine war prevented collective action.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, meanwhile, promoted China’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine as something all of the G-20 should rally behind.
“Global development and prosperity cannot be achieved without a peaceful and stable international environment,” Qin said in a statement.
Blinken’s pitch to G-20 countries was that Russia is not open to “meaningful diplomacy.” He said no one wants to end the war sooner than the Ukrainians – but there is “zero evidence” that the Russians want to negotiate in good faith. The Kremlin’s position that Ukraine must acquiesce to Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory as a precondition for negotiations should not be accepted by any nation, Blinken has said.
Other European countries at the G-20 echoed his skepticism of Russian or Chinese diplomatic overtures. Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said countries needed to provide material support to Ukraine “because there is no alternative for Ukraine than success on the battlefield.”
“Only if Ukraine is successful on the battlefield, it will be able to be successful at a negotiating table,” he told reporters in New Delhi.
Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made an appearance at the event and staked out a unique position calling on Modi to play a “central role in facilitating a negotiating process for the cessation of hostilities for a just peace.”
While India’s neutral position has been criticized by some Western politicians, the country has emphasized its economic dependencies on Russian oil and military equipment.
Russia is a major supplier of crude oil to India, accounting for almost a fifth of its imports by value last year, according data from India’s Commerce Ministry.
That close relationship has created unease in Washington, especially in Congress. But a senior State Department official said India’s energy ties were less problematic given the price cap on Russian oil imposed by the West.
“The Indians are buying at well below the price cap,” the official said. “It’s good for the Indian economy. It’s stabilizing oil markets. It’s depriving Russia of excess revenue that can fuel the war.”