G20 declaration on Ukraine — hype or reality?

Published September 10, 2023
India’s Premier Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hold hands before the start of a session at the G20 summit.—AFP
India’s Premier Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hold hands before the start of a session at the G20 summit.—AFP

NEW DELHI: A day before G20 leaders began to arrive in New Delhi for their 18th two-day summit on Saturday, political news from their domestic fronts was equally troubling for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden. Mr Modi’s party had lost four of seven by-polls in important states to the newly minted opposition alliance, including the Congress. Mr Biden’s ratings within his own Democratic party had plunged to forbidding levels.

Ahead of the summit, Ukra­ine expectedly formed the burden of the discussions held over months under India’s stewardship of the G20’s various forums. A joint declaration had eluded them. As Russia agreed to a compromise joint draft at the summit in New Delhi, all the hard work and the tough negotiations notwithstanding, it was Kyiv’s turn to sulk.

Mr Modi announced that he wanted to convey the “good news” that consensus has been reached on the New Delhi Dec­la­ration. His news came with applause and thumping of desks, the decibels multiplied manifold by Indian TV anc­hors. The decision was annou­nced unusually on the first day of the summit, without waiting for the conclusion of the two-day event, The Guardian noted.

“Ukraine is grateful to the partners who tried to include strong wording in the text. At the same time, in terms of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the Group of 20 has nothing to be proud of,” said Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman at the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Mr Nikolenko posted a photo of a part of the statement edited in red, changing “the war in Ukraine” to “the war against Ukraine” and adding references to Russia.

Reports quoting diplomatic sources said the Indian side had circulated a new paragraph on Ukraine late at night.

The consensus text, also endorsed by Russia and China, expresses support for “sovereignty and territorial integrity” in the Ukraine war. However, it doesn’t have language from the Bali declaration which talked of “Russian aggression”.

“Concerning the war in Ukraine, while recalling the discussion in Bali, we reiterated our national positions and resolutions adopted at the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly (A/RES/ES-11/1 and A/RES/ES-11/6) and underscored that all states must act in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter in its entirety. In line with the UN Charter, all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state,” said the declaration.

Last year’s G20 summit in Bali witnessed a consensus being reached at the last minute, with China and Russia endorsing two paragraphs on Ukraine. Instead, the Delhi declaration emphasised that states must “refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition” and that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”.

The joint declaration didn’t condemn Russia and appeared to be of a piece with the recent visit to Kyiv by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken where he failed to air standard western invectives for Moscow or President Vladimir Putin. Instead, Mr Blinken focused on the human trauma of the war and on the task of rebuilding from the rubble ahead.

Ukraine justifiably found copious mention in the G20 joint declaration released on Saturday. On the other hand, the silence of leaders from Western democracies over what Arundhati Roy described to Al Jazeera as creeping fascism in India was palpably resounding. She named the leaders of France, the UK and the US, in particular, as indulging Mr Modi at a considerable cost to India.

Away from the sanitised and cordoned venue of the summit, journalists from key G20 countries held a parallel online summit they called M20. It discussed a key element many members battle in their respective backyards, the freedom of the press.

On this particular G20 outing, even the muscular American media accompanying their president were astonished at being kept out of Mr Biden’s meeting with Mr Modi. If the joint declaration in Delhi brings triggers prospects for peace in Europe, part of the credit would be claimed by Mr Modi justifiably.

But he may have bigger fish to fry when the special session of parliament he has called opens later this month. And though he has prescribed peace for Ukraine amid global applause, Mr Modi has not indicated any urgency to end the trauma of the people stalking large swathes of India, including Manipur and Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2023

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