India G20: Bitter divisions over Ukraine war mar talks

March 3 – The US Secretary of State said the meeting had been marred by Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified warfare”.

Russia’s foreign minister accused the West of “blackmail and threats.”

India wanted to focus on other issues affecting developing nations, but said differences over Ukraine “cannot be reconciled.”

“We tried, but the gap between the countries was too big,” said India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar.

The G20, which includes the world’s 19 richest nations plus the European Union, represents 85% of the world’s economic output and two-thirds of its population.

Foreign ministers from the group, including Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, the US’s Antony Blinken and China’s Qin Gang, met in Delhi under the Indian presidency. It was the first face-to-face meeting of top US and Russian diplomats since the war began a little over a year ago.

Blinken met with Lavrov for about 10 minutes on the sidelines and told him the West would support Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” a senior State Department official said. Blinken also lobbied Russia to rejoin the New Start nuclear arms control treaty from which it recently withdrew and abide by its terms.

Russian officials denied that negotiations had taken place. Earlier, Russia also accused the West of “burying” a deal to allow some Ukrainian grain exports, but the US responded by saying that Moscow was hampering Ukrainian exports.

Meanwhile, Russian officials said that Moscow and Beijing agreed to oppose what they called Western blackmail and threats, but this has not been confirmed by China.

“We talked about manners. Well, our Western counterparts have become very bad with this,” Lavrov said after the talks on Thursday. “They no longer think about diplomacy, now they only engage in blackmail and threaten everyone else.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the session, warning that global divisions were putting sustainable development at risk.

“Many developing countries are struggling with unsustainable debt as they try to ensure food and energy security,” he said.

“They are also the most affected by global warming caused by the richest countries.”

It was a rare speech by Modi in English, a sign of how seriously he wanted his message to be taken. He made no direct reference to the war in Ukraine, but acknowledged that the discussions would be affected by geopolitical tensions.

Thursday’s program included sessions on food security, development cooperation, terrorism and humanitarian assistance, a reflection of India’s priorities as it holds the G20 presidency.

Ahead of the talks, a former Indian diplomat told the BBC that India would have to “do something special” to get delegates to gloss over their differences over the war. Strained relations between the United States and China, which has refused to oppose Russia’s invasion, were also expected to test India’s ability to forge a consensus.

In the end, Foreign Minister Jaishankar had to present what is called a president’s summary after the talks on Thursday, meaning the participants were unable to come up with a joint statement. Russia and China were the only states that refused to agree to condemn the war.

But India achieved its main goal of raising the voice of the Global South and Jaishankar said that “on most of the issues we were able to get a final document.”

Diplomacy is still several months away before G20 leaders meet in September and Delhi hopes his presidency does not end on a disappointing note.

Experts say Delhi also had the delicate task of balancing its non-aligned policy on war with pleas to other nations to find ways to work together.

India has resisted the pressure and continued with its strategy of not directly criticizing Russia, which is India’s largest arms supplier. He has regularly abstained from voting on UN resolutions condemning the war in Ukraine, including a vote held at the UN General Assembly last week.

It has also defended its decision to increase its oil imports from Russia, saying it has to meet the needs of its population.

But he has spoken about the importance of “the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” in his previous remarks on Ukraine.

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