Language on Russia's war in Ukraine splits G20

U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen accused officials from Moscow attending the Group of 20 meeting of being complicit in atrocities taking place in Ukraine.

Published - February 25, 2023 02:13 am IST - Bengaluru

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das and Department of Economic Affairs Secretary Ajay Seth attend the 1st Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) Meeting under G20 India Presidency

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das and Department of Economic Affairs Secretary Ajay Seth attend the 1st Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) Meeting under G20 India Presidency | Photo Credit: ANI

Finance heads of the world's most powerful economies were split over language on Russia's war in Ukraine with some western powers hardening their position on isolating Moscow while host India looked for more neutral terms to describe the conflict.

The two-day meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors got underway here on Friday with an agenda including a wide range of issues - from debt relief to poorer countries, to digital currencies and payments, reforms of multilateral lending institutions like the World Bank, climate change and financial inclusion.

But what split the grouping was the language to be used in the end-of-the-meeting communique to describe the situation in Ukraine.

Coinciding with the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials of U.S. and France blamed Moscow for the war.

While U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Russia ending the war was "the most important thing" for the global economy, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said there was no way G20 could step back from a joint statement agreed at a last summit in Bali, Indonesia in November 2022, which had stated that "most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine".

Ms. Yellen accused officials from Moscow attending the Group of 20 meeting of being complicit in atrocities taking place in Ukraine.

Host India wants the geopolitical tension to be referred to as a "crisis" or a "challenge" while U.S. and other western nations want nothing short of "war" to go in the communique that is to be issued on Saturday evening.

Sources said India was attempting to build a consensus to include neutral words.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his inaugural remarks did not mention the Ukraine war, saying the global economy faced a range of other challenges.

"Financial viability of many countries is threatened by unsustainable debt levels," he said. "It is now up to you -- the custodians of the leading economies and monetary systems of the world -- to bring back stability, confidence and growth to the global economy."

The French minister said his country would oppose any 'step back' on condemnation of war in Ukraine as agreed in the Bali declaration.

"Either we have the same language or we do not sign on the final communique," Mr. Le Maire told reporters.

He however expressed hope that India would play an important role and "fully trust" New Delhi in this regard.

On February 24, 2022, Russia had invaded Ukraine, leaving thousands dead and millions homeless.

While the west has been critical of the war and has imposed economic sanctions on Russia, India has neither directly condemned nor sided with Moscow. Instead, New Delhi has doubled down on its trade with Russia, buying large volumes of oil available at deep discounts.

Ms. Yellen urged G20 economies to "redouble their efforts to support Ukraine and restrict Russia's capacity to wage war".

"I urge the Russian officials here at the G20 to understand that their continued work for the Kremlin makes them complicit in Putin's atrocities," she told reporters.

Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov and central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina did not attend the G20 meeting in India. Russia is being represented by deputies at the meeting here. China was virtually represented by its finance minister Liu Kun.

"That's the key point that remains open is to be very clear in the wording of the condemnation of the war in Ukraine. And once again, don't make any mistakes. We will oppose any step back from the declaration of the leaders in Bali. But once again, I fully trust India because India is in the driving seat," the French minister said.

At the last G20 Summit in Bali in November 2022, the declaration read: "Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine". However, some member countries held "other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions".

Russia, which is part of G20, calls its invasion of Ukraine as a "special military operation".

"India is playing a key role and I think that India is in the best position to have this strong communique that we are all waiting for. Either we stick to the Bali communique, or France will oppose any communique during these G20 of the finance ministers. I cannot be any clearer," the French minister said.

The communique of the first finance ministers and central bank governments (FMCBG) meeting under the India Presidency is expected on Saturday detailing the roadmap for the next round and agenda for the Leadership Summit later this year.

The French finance minister also said this G20 meeting was taking place one year after the declaration of the war in Ukraine and Paris used this G20 to reaffirm its strong condemnation of the illegal and brutal attack of Russia against Ukraine.

"We share the view of Prime Minister Modi that this is not and this must not be an era of war. Beyond human losses and destruction, what is at stake with this war in Ukraine are key principles of sovereignty and international order. What is at stake is the strength of growth and prosperity for the long term. One thing must be clear that there can't be sustainable and strong economic development in a time of war," he said.

The war in Ukraine is not a regional conflict but a global conflict and it was not only affecting Ukraine and European countries, but all countries around the world, he said, adding, European countries also reaffirmed their unity and their total determination to adopt new sanctions against Russia during the meeting.

"Our sanctions are strong. Our sanctions are efficient. They are hitting and reducing the oil revenues of Russia. They are freezing $58 billion of Russian assets. They are disorganizing the Russian industry and they are undermining its war efforts. Sanctions are effective and will be more and more effective in the long term," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the G20 summit of world leaders in Bali, Indonesia, in November. Russia was represented by its foreign minister Sergey.

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