Thursday’s gathering of foreign ministers from the world’s largest economies in New Delhi was viewed as a significant test for Indian diplomacy, which ultimately failed to reach a consensus due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar India’s foreign minister, met with his American, Chinese, and Russian counterparts at the second high-level ministerial meeting this year under India’s G20 presidency. He hoped to find enough common ground to deliver a joint statement at the summit’s conclusion.
However, New Delhi was unable to persuade the leaders to put their differences over Moscow’s war aside, and Jaishankar acknowledged that the conflict had difficulty uniting the group.
India, the largest democracy in the world with a population of more than 1.3 billion people, has been keen to position itself as a leader of emerging and developing nations, also known as the Global South. This comes at a time when war-related spikes in the cost of food and energy are hammering consumers who are already struggling with rising costs and inflation.
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s opening remarks earlier on Thursday, he spoke of multiple crises facing the world, with less wealthy nations being particularly affected.
Modi stated, “The experience of the last few years, including the financial crisis, climate change, the pandemic, terrorism, and wars, clearly shows that global governance has failed.”
“We must also admit that the tragic consequences of this failure are being faced most over by the developing countries,” he asserts, adding that global warming is being exacerbated by “richer countries.”
Modi acknowledged that the conflict in Ukraine was causing “deep global divisions” in reference to the conflict. However, during their Thursday meeting, he urged the foreign ministers to put their differences aside.
He stated, “We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to get in the way of issues that we can resolve together.”
A State Department official who was traveling with Antony Blinken said that Blinken met with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of the summit.
According to the same official, Blinken and Lavrov spoke for roughly ten minutes.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acknowledged to CNN that the meeting took place but downplayed its significance.
“Blinken requested communication with Lavrov. As part of the twenty’s second session, Sergey Viktorovich (Lavrov) spoke while the group was moving. She stated that there were no negotiations, meetings, or the like.
When G20 finance chiefs couldn’t come to an agreement on a statement following their meeting, they also had deep disagreements about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The joint statement, which criticized Moscow’s invasion, was rejected by China and Russia. India was left with the task of releasing a “chair’s summary and outcome document,” which acknowledged disagreements and summarized the two days of talks.
According to analysts, New Delhi has successfully balanced its ties to Russia and the West throughout the war, with Modi emerging as a leader who has been courted by both sides.
However, as the war enters its second year and tensions continue to rise, Modi’s statecraft may be put to the test as countries, including India, may be pressured to take a stronger stance against Russia.
India’s balancing act
The G20 summit, which is arguably India’s most awaited event of the year, has received extensive domestic promotion, with Modi’s face plastered on vast billboards all over the country. In preparation for the dignitaries’ visit, roads have been cleaned and buildings have been freshly painted.
His political allies have been eager to push Modi’s international credentials, portraying him as a key player in the global order, in the “mother of democracies” under his leadership.
A joint declaration that echoed what Modi had said to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan weeks earlier was issued by the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia, last year.
It stated, “Today’s era must not be of war,” prompting officials and media in India to assert that India had acted as a bridge between an isolated Russia and the United States and its allies.
Analysts say that India is proud of its ability to maintain harmony in its relations. Similar to China, the nation has refused to include a condemnation of Moscow’s heinous attack on Ukraine in a number of UN resolutions. India has undermined Western sanctions by increasing its purchases of Russian oil, coal, and fertilizer rather than cutting economic ties with the Kremlin.
However, despite its ties with Russia, India, in contrast to China, has gotten closer to the West, particularly the US.
Due to India’s ongoing tensions with China at their shared Himalayan border, the country still relies heavily on the Kremlin for military supplies. New Delhi’s ties with Moscow date back to the Cold War.
As the two countries attempt to counter the rise of an increasingly assertive China, the US and India have taken steps to strengthen their defense partnership in recent months.
Daniel Markey, senior counselor, South Asia, for the US Foundation of Harmony (USIP), said while India’s chiefs “might want to work with a finish to this contention that jelly New Delhi’s relations with both Washington and Moscow and closures the disturbance of the worldwide economy,” India didn’t have “a specific influence” with Russia or Ukraine that would make a settlement likely.
I think that other world leaders are just as interested in playing a diplomatic role in making peace. Therefore, he stated, “Putin will have no shortage of diplomats hoping to assist him when and if he wishes to come to the table to negotiate.”
In spite of the fact that Putin’s aggression continues to wreak havoc on the global economy, Modi’s opening speech earlier on Thursday stated that India had indicated its intention to raise the numerous issues that the global South faces, such as climate challenges and food and energy security.
According to Modi’s statement, “the world looks to the G20 to ease the challenges of growth, development, economic resilience, disaster resilience, financial stability, transnational crime, corruption, terrorism, and food and energy security.”
Experts say that despite the fact that Modi’s government seems eager to focus on domestic issues, tensions between the United States, Russia, and China may overshadow these issues. These tensions have risen recently due to Washington’s worries that Beijing might send lethal aid to the Kremlin’s struggling war effort.
The US assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, Ramin Toloui, stated to reporters last week that while Secretary of State Antony Blinken would emphasize the United States’ efforts to address food and energy security concerns, he would also “underscore the damage that Russia’s war of aggression has caused.”
Toloui stated that Blinken will “encourage all G20 partners to redouble their calls for a just, peaceful, and lasting end to the Kremlin’s war in accordance with UN Charter principles.”
At the same time, Russia issued a statement on Wednesday in which it stated that it was “set to clearly state Russia’s assessments” of the current food and energy crisis and accused the United States and the European Union of “terrorism.”
Russia said, hinting at the challenges New Delhi might face during the meeting, “We will draw attention to the destructive barriers that the West is multiplying exponentially to block the export of goods that are of critical importance to the global economy, including energy sources and agricultural products.”
Markey stated that India has “worked very hard not to be boxed into one side or the other.” He went on to say that the nation was unable to “afford to alienate Russia or the US, and Modi does not want discussion of the war to force any difficult decisions or to distract from other issues, like green, sustainable economic development.”
But after the US military shot down what it claims was a Chinese spy balloon that flew over American territory, relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated, and New Delhi will need to carefully steer difficult negotiations between opposing points of view.
China maintains that the balloon that was shot down by US forces in February was actually a civilian research aircraft that was accidentally blown off course. As a result, Blinken had to postpone a planned trip to Beijing.
Analysts say that although India will be disappointed by the outcome of the ministerial meeting on Thursday, the country was initially in a very difficult position.
Markey stated, “It will be a disappointment for Modi, but not one that cannot be managed.” It would also not be India’s fault because it would primarily reflect the fundamental disagreements over which Modi has very little control.