G20 statement drops reference to Russia aggression ‘against’ Ukraine

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G20 leaders have failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a joint statement after China and Russia rejected language that blamed Moscow for the conflict, highlighting the lack of global consensus in support of Kyiv.

The New Delhi summit declaration refers only to the “war in Ukraine”, a formulation that supporters of Kyiv such as the US and Nato allies have previously rejected as it implies both sides are equally complicit.

That statement, hammered out over weeks of negotiations and hours of intense debate between diplomats as the summit was already under way, is a blow to western countries that have spent the past year attempting to convince developing countries to condemn Moscow and support Ukraine.

The previous G20 declaration, made in Indonesia last November, referred to “aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. Western diplomats said China’s refusal to repeat that formulation was critical in pushing host India to propose compromise language.

Referring to the war, India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar said: “It is a fact that this is today a very polarising issue and there are multiple views on this. There are a spectrum of views on this, so I think in all fairness it was only right to record what was the reality in the meeting rooms.”

The declaration also contains a pledge by the leaders of the world’s biggest economies to “pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally”, but does not include any deadline for phasing out fossil fuels. China and Saudi Arabia led efforts to block such language in G20 meetings in July.

Adopting the declaration will be a foreign policy coup for India and its prime minister Narendra Modi, after speculation that divisions over Ukraine were too large to be bridged. Modi will face voters in a poll in which he will be seeking re-election to a third term in early 2024.

“We highlighted the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth,” the joint statement said. “There were different views and assessments of the situation.”

The declaration called for a “just and durable peace in Ukraine” but did not explicitly link that demand to the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as western countries had pushed for. It also did not include the statement from the 2022 version that noted “most members strongly condemned the war”.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, nonetheless said the declaration had a “set of consequential paragraphs” on the war in Ukraine.

“From our perspective, it does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition . . . that the use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible, that a just peace must be based on the principles of the UN Charter,” he added.

Overall, the statement was a “vote of confidence that the G20 can come together to address a pressing range of issues, and also to deal with hard issues that actually very much divide some members from others”, Sullivan said.

India, which styles itself as a leader of the so-called Global South group of developing countries, also succeeded in its campaign to have the G20 induct the African Union as a full member.

“It is a matter of particular satisfaction to us that the African Union has become a member of the G20 during the Indian presidency,” Jaishankar told reporters.

The joint statement also makes reference to digital public infrastructure, that India has been promoting as a template for financial inclusion and economic productivity gains during its presidency after its own successful push to bring more than 1bn people online.

Hanging over the summit was the still unexplained absence of China’s president Xi Jinping. He skipped the meeting for the first time and instead sent the country’s second-ranked cadre, Premier Li Qiang in what some analysts have described as a “snub”.

But the wording of the communique still reflected many Chinese talking points, such as that the G20 should limit itself to international economic issues and the language on Ukraine and nuclear weapons. China has also heavily touted its role in supporting African Union membership.

In his address to the Summit, Li said the G20 needed “unity instead of division, co-operation instead of confrontation, and inclusion instead of exclusion”, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. 

The remarks are in line with China’s portrayal of the US and its allies as pushing “bloc confrontation” and engaging in a “Cold War mentality”.

Li also told the audience that China would inject momentum into the global economy despite its stumbling recovery from Covid, with signs that its traditional growth engines of property and debt-fuelled infrastructure spending were running out of steam.

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