G20 nations compromise on Ukraine war reference to reach Delhi agreement

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2L) addresses the opening session of the G20 Leaders’ Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on September 9, 2023.

Ludovic Marin | Afp | Getty Images

NEW DELHI — The Group of 20 nations on Saturday overcame differences in references to the war in Ukraine, reaching a consensus on a joint declaration that paves the way for frameworks on debt resolution, and country-specific climate financing solutions among other pledges aimed at enhancing development in the Global South.

In an 83-paragraph joint communique aimed at deepening the integration of the needs of developing economies into the multilateral forum’s agenda, the Delhi declaration omitted words from the last year’s statement that overtly condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine — instead highlighting the human suffering and other negative impacts of the war in Ukraine that have complicated recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The wording of “most members strongly condemned the war” was among several changes. Instead, G20 member states agreed to lean on the tenets of the United Nations charter on territorial integrity and against the use of force.

“Considerable time was spent — especially in the last few days — in regard to geopolitical issues, which really centered around the war in Ukraine,” Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Saturday at a press conference following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initial announcement of the consensus on a joint declaration.

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“Everybody helped, because everybody came together for the consensus, but the emerging markets took a particular lead on this and many of us have a strong history of working together,” Jaishankar added.

This accomplishment underscores India’s diplomatic clout at a time when global alliances are shifting. With the Russian and Chinese heads of state conspicuously absent from this year’s leaders’ summit, Modi has been keen to position India as a key global player advocating the interests of the Global South, while serving as an interlocutor with the developed nations.

Yet, there were some fears Delhi negotiators and diplomats might not be able to broker a consensus at this year’s meeting. Russian and Chinese objections to references to the ongoing war in Ukraine have hobbled India’s efforts at fostering consensus in the major discussion tracks in the course of its year-long presidency.

The various leaders will still have to vote on the proposal that India has fostered this year, but that is seen largely as a formality at this point.

‘Cascading challenges’

In the Delhi declaration, G20 leaders called for the “full, timely and effective implementation” of the Black Sea grain deal “to ensure the immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilizers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine.”

Russia unilaterally withdrew from the deal — brokered between Turkey, the United Nations, Ukraine and Russia in July 2022 — that helped ease the Kremlin’s naval blockade in the Black Sea and established a humanitarian corridor for agricultural exports.

The agreement had facilitated the transport of 725,167 tons of wheat for the World Food Program to some of the world’s most food-insecure countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

The ensuing food insecurity from the festering Ukraine crisis adds to the many challenges that have afflicted the world in the last few years, complicating policy efforts to recover from the adverse economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Years of cascading challenges and crises have reversed gains in the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals,” G20 leaders said in the Delhi declaration, as they pledged to protect the most vulnerable in the world by promoting equitable growth and enhancing macroeconomic and financial stability.

To further cement that goal, India also fostered the admission of the African Union as the second regional grouping to gain full G20 membership after the European Union.

Other than the mitigation of the impact on geopolitics of food and energy security, this Delhi declaration also included the expediting of climate action, the provision of more loans to developing nations by multilateral institutions and restructuring the world’s debt architecture as well as an international framework for cryptocurrencies.

Leveraging the G20

The flurry of activities for U.S. President Joe Biden and India Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the main G20 agenda underscores the burgeoning strategic partnership between their countries.

On the eve of the two-day summit on Friday, Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to deepen the partnership between their countries in their second bilateral meeting in less than six months.

This kicked off a series of other deals and meetings independent of the formal G20 auspices Saturday, underscoring the urgency for the U.S. and India in leveraging the G20 to secure and deepen multilateral and bilateral ties amid shifting geopolitical sands — a contrast, in particular, to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to stay away from this summit.

Many governments, investors and businesses are also starting to look toward India — as China slows — which the International Monetary Fund expects to be the fastest growing economy this year.

Biden signed a plan to develop a network of railways and sea routes with India, Middle Eastern countries and the European Union, a development that seeks to counter China’s influence in the energy-rich region.

Leaders of India, Brazil, South Africa and the U.S. met on the margins of the G20 summit, pledging “to build on the historic progress of India’s G20 presidency to address global challenges” in partnership with the World Bank in building “better, bigger, and more effective” multilateral development banks. 

These pledges built on G20 nations agreeing to expand lending by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Such steps could yield as much as $200 billion in extra funding in the next decade, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Saturday at the press conference explaining the Delhi declaration.

These four countries represent the current and the next three G20 member states that are due to hold the rotating presidency of the multilateral forum founded in 1999 to tackle the issues that afflict the global economy.

Modi and Biden were separately joined by leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mauritius, and the United Arab Emirates in launching the Global Biofuels Alliance, a partnership aimed at deploying greener fuels around the world that help meet decarbonization goals. 



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