G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting | Divisions between Western countries, Russia-China derail joint statement

India issues chairman’s summary naming Russia and China for not joining consensus on Ukraine from Bali document

Updated - March 03, 2023 08:57 am IST

Published - March 02, 2023 09:53 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Rashtrapati Bhavan Cultural Centre, the venue for the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting, in New Delhi on March 2, 2023.

Rashtrapati Bhavan Cultural Centre, the venue for the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting, in New Delhi on March 2, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Deep divisions between the United States-led Western countries and the Russia-China combine upended India’s attempt to forge consensus at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Thursday. The meeting in Delhi, that brought together the world’s 20 most developed economies, saw sharp words exchanged by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a number of other Foreign Ministers, despite an appeal from Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the start of the meeting to “rise above [their] differences”.

“We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can,” said PM Modi in a reference to the divide over the Ukraine war, adding that he hoped that their meeting “in the land of Gandhi and the Buddha” would inspire the G20 delegates to “focus not on what divides us, but on what unites us”. In an indication of the continuing divide since Russia’s attack on Ukraine from February 2022, the delegates, who met PM Modi together on Thursday evening, did not agree to a joint “family” photograph of the grouping.

“Our task was not an easy one given the state of polarisation in the world and we were not able to reach a complete consensus as we and a group of countries were able to do in Bali”, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, disagreeing with the formulation of questions from journalists who asked if he was “disappointed”.

Also read | Language on Russia’s war in Ukraine splits G20

Eventually, the meeting chaired by Mr. Jaishankar ended with a “Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document” issued by India, that like the G20 Finance Ministers’ Meeting last week, named Russia and China as the reason the two paragraphs (three and four from G20 Bali Document of 2022) pertaining to the war in Ukraine could not be reconciled. Explaining the decision to shun language on Ukraine that he had accepted last year, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “The Bali Declaration took place half a year ago. A lot of events took place since then,” indicating the Ukrainian President’s announcement that he no longer would adhere to the Minsk Agreements with Russia, and pointing to the explosions on the Nordstream energy pipelines that Russia blames the U.S. carried out. Mr. Lavrov commended India for its “dignified” position as G20 Chair.

While the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting does not mandate a joint statement, the fact that Indian negotiators failed to convince their Russian and Chinese counterparts to sign on to the language of last year’s joint communique in Bali is a setback, and will mean New Delhi will have to do some heavy diplomatic lifting in the next few months, in order to have a joint communique at the G20 leaders summit in September.

Also read |Russia-China, West divide may raise tensions at G20 

However, Mr. Jaishankar pointed out that despite the differences, negotiators who tried to resolve issues by working through the nights on February 28 and March 1, had been able to achieve consensus on all issues of concern to the Global South (developing countries), including strengthening multilateralism, food, fuel and energy security, climate change, and other issues.

Agreeing with Mr. Jaishankar, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the lack of a joint communique at the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting or going forward at the G20 leaders summit was not an “issue” if there was consensus between most countries.

“As long as there’s consensus that includes all the members of the G20 minus one or two, and they commit to implementing it, the process can still go ahead,” he said in response to a question from The Hindu.

The conference however also witnessed a few dramatic moments when the video feed that was not meant for the media was briefly telecast that showed the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly criticising Russia for President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign against Ukraine, before it was abruptly cut. Delivering his speech in which he strongly articulated the Russian position on the Ukraine war, Mr. Lavrov “apologised” to the Indian hosts on “behalf of the West” citing “indecent behaviour” by a few Western delegates at the meeting of the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) held on February 24 where the Russian delegation was reportedly heckled and intimidated by a western official over the situation in Ukraine.

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