G20 talks end in India without consensus on Ukraine war

Members grappled with deepening rifts in their ranks and held contentious talks

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the G20 meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. - AP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the G20 meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. - AP


Published: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 4:44 PM

A meeting of top diplomats of the Group of 20 industrialised and developing nations ended Thursday in New Delhi without a consensus on the Ukraine war, India’s foreign minister said, as members grappled with deepening rifts in their ranks and held contentious talks dominated by Russia’s war and China’s moves to boost its global influence.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said there were “divergences” on the issue of war in Ukraine “which we could not reconcile as various parties held differing views.”

“If we had a perfect meeting of minds on all issues, it would have been a collective statement,” Jaishankar said. He added that members agreed on most issues involving the concerns of less-developed nations, “like strengthening multilateralism, promoting food and energy security, climate change, gender issues and counter-terrorism.”

Host India had appealed for all members of the fractured Group of 20 to reach consensus on issues of deep concern to poorer countries even if the broader East-West split over Ukraine could not be resolved. And while others, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, chose to highlight their positive roles in addressing world crises, the divide was palpable.

Last week, India was forced to issue a compromised chair’s summary at the conclusion of the G20 finance ministers meeting after Russia and China objected to a joint communique that retained language on the war in Ukraine drawn directly from last year’s G20 leaders summit declaration in Indonesia.

In a video address to the assembled foreign ministers in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the members not to allow current tensions to destroy agreements that might be reached on food and energy security, climate change and debt.

“We are meeting at a time of deep global divisions,” Modi told the group, which included Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and their Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, whose discussions would naturally be “affected by the geopolitical tensions of the day.”

“We all have our positions and our perspectives on how these tensions should be resolved,” he said, adding that: “We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can.”

In a nod to fears that the increasingly bitter rift between the United States and its allies on one side and Russia and China on the other appears likely to widen further, Modi said that "multilateralism is in crisis today.”

He lamented that the two main goals of the post-World War II international order — preventing conflict and fostering cooperation — were elusive. “The experience of the last two years, financial crisis, pandemic, terrorism and wars clearly shows that global governance has failed in both its mandates,” he said.

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar then addressed the group in person, telling them that they “must find common ground and provide direction.”

Blinken, according to remarks released by the State Department, spent much of his time describing U.S. efforts to bolster energy and food security. But he also told the ministers pointedly that Russia's war with Ukraine could not go unchallenged.

“Unfortunately, this meeting has again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine, deliberate campaign of destruction against civilian targets, and its attack on the core principles of the UN Charter,” he said.

“We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability," Blinken said. He noted that 141 countries had voted to condemn Russia at the United Nations on the one-year anniversary of the invasion.

However, several members of the G20, including India, China and South Africa, chose to abstain in that vote.

Blinken and Lavrov met briefly Thursday in the first high-level meeting in months between the two countries. US officials said Blinken and Lavrov chatted for roughly 10 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 conference.

In addition to attending the G20 and seeing Modi and Jaishankar individually on Thursday, Blinken met separately with the foreign ministers of Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa, and was also scheduled to hold talks with the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and Mexico.

As at most international events since last year, the split over the war in Ukraine and its impact on global energy and food security overshadowed the proceedings. But as the conflict has dragged on over the past 12 months, the divide has grown and now threatens to become a principal irritant in U.S.-China ties that were already on the rocks for other reasons.

A Chinese peace proposal for Ukraine that has drawn praise from Russia but dismissals from the West has done nothing to improve matters as U.S. officials have repeatedly accused China in recent days of considering the provision of weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Blinken said on Wednesday that the Chinese plan rang hollow given its focus on “sovereignty” compared to its own recent actions.

Bliken with UK foreign minister James Cleverly at the G20 meeting. - AP
Bliken with UK foreign minister James Cleverly at the G20 meeting. - AP

“China can’t have it both ways,” Blinken told reporters in Tashkent, Uzbekistan before travelling to New Delhi. “It can’t be putting itself out as a force for peace in public, while in one way or another, it continues to fuel the flames of this fire that Vladimir Putin started.”

He also said there is “zero evidence” that Putin is genuinely prepared for diplomacy to end the war. “To the contrary, the evidence is all in the other direction,” he said.

China on Thursday hit back at those comments, accusing the U.S. of promoting war by supplying Ukraine with weapons and violating Chinese sovereignty with support for Taiwan.

“The US says it wants peace, but it is waging wars around the world and inciting confrontation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.

“While emphasising the need to respect and maintain the international order, the U.S. has vigorously pursued illegal unilateral sanctions, putting domestic law above international law,” she said. “What the US should do is to reflect on itself, stop confusing the public and making irresponsible remarks, earnestly shoulder its responsibilities, and do something to promote the de-escalation of the situation and peace talks.”

In the meantime, Moscow has been unrelenting in pushing its view that the West, led by the US, is trying to destroy Russia.

Ahead of the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry slammed U.S. policies, saying that Lavrov and his delegation would use the G20 to “focus on the attempts by the West to take revenge for the inevitable disappearance of the levers of dominance from its hands."

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