G20 statement on Ukraine war fails to impress

G20 statement on Ukraine war fails to impress
Ukraine welcomed the support of the G20 in its struggle against Russia, but had a few suggestions to improve the working of the G20 statement on the war: like mentioning Russia's name, for example. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin September 11, 2023

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the G20 members had agreed on a statement on the war in Ukraine, in what should have been a diplomatic coup for Delhi that is hosting and chairing the G20 this year.

But the watered-down language of the final statement failed to impress Kyiv, which pointed out it called the conflict “the war in Ukraine” instead of a “war against Ukraine,” and the statement failed to mention Russia by name at all.

The softening of the language represented a significant shift from the Bali declaration last year. Reportedly, India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa lobbied aggressively for the diluted G20 statement on Ukraine.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a tongue-in-cheek thank you for the statement of support, but went on to suggest some changes to the text, written in red pencil over the original.

“Ukraine is grateful to the partners who tried to include strong wording in the text… This is how the main elements of the text could look to be closer to reality,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a tweet, attaching a picture of its suggested improvements.

The Delhi declaration on the war fell short of the Bali declaration in Indonesia where the last G20 summit was held. In that statement, Russia was named and the war was condemned in clear terms.

India’s foreign ministry dismissed the comparison saying that “Bali was Bali and Delhi is Delhi.”

Gurjit Singh, former Indian ambassador to Indonesia and the African Union, told bne IntelliNews: “India has just done some very nuanced diplomacy. As the Ukraine declaration is aimed at all aggressive states, not just Russia, the G20 statement also implicitly rebuked China as well that is engaged in aggressive tactics on the Sino-Indian border.”

There is a long-standing border dispute between Delhi and Beijing that regularly flares up into skirmishes. While the statement that didn’t name just Russia, Delhi was also playing to its pan-regional interests and not just the Euro-centric view on the war in Ukraine.

Modi also successfully rallied the rest of the G20 into implicitly castigating China as well as Russia. As bne IntelliNews reported, many G20 nations feel as uncomfortable with Chinese aggression as they do with Russian aggression. The issue came to a head only days before the G20 summit started after China issued a new standard map  that provoked an outcry as it annexed on paper territories claimed by India, Nepal, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Russia.

In this sense Modi successfully used the G20 summit to curb China’s aspirations to use the G20 as another geopolitical tool in its growing confrontation with the US and established a firmer grip on the title of “champion of the global south”, which is one of India’s aspirations.

Certainly things have changed in the last year, with geopolitical tensions ratcheting up and members of the global community increasingly being forced to choose sides. With both the US and EU as members of the G20 on one side, and China and Russia members on the other side, few were expecting any sort of statement at all on the Ukraine war issue. The fact that Modi managed to broker any statement, even one that only mildly condemned the war, is seen as a major diplomatic success for India.

The compromised statement represents another example of the divisions that exist in the newly expanded BRICS+ bloc that added six new members to the emerging market club at a summit on August 24. As bne IntelliNews reported, those divisions were visible on the first day of the BRICS summit and have only become more visible following the G20 summit.

Hard-line leaders China and Russia want to set up an organisation that can directly challenge the G7 for its hegemony over geopolitics and reform international politics from a unipolar world to a multipolar one, where the UN becomes the predominant forum for organising international affairs. However, the dovish members like India and South Africa have explicitly rejected this confrontational bias and want to cooperate with the West as they continue to concentrate on reforming and developing their fast-growing countries.

India’s cooperative attitude was highlighted by a new mega-transport corridor deal running from Indian via the Middle East to Europe that was agreed between the US, EU, India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi on September 8. KSA is also a new member of the BRICS+ bloc and by participating in the transport corridor deal softened its increasingly hard line to relations with the US, also indicating that it would like to find a middle ground in its foreign relations based on its own national interests.

Notably, anticipating the softer tone that India would project at the G20 meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping chose to stay away. Russian President Vladimir Putin was also not in attendance due to a  arrest warrant issued by the ICC for Putin’s arrest in March, who is charged with kidnapping children from Ukraine.