G20 Declaration: As the West Scrambles to Justify 'Softened' Language on Ukraine War, Russia Exults

Without directly naming Russia, the Delhi declaration only talks about 'the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security'. 

New Delhi: The last day of a world summit, usually, is all about poring through the text of the declaration released after the end of deliberations and the leaders have said their farewells. But here at the G-20’s last day, it has largely been about Western delegations scrambling to limit the damage resulting from their signing on to a summit declaration which avoided any direct criticism of Russia. As expected, the Russian foreign minister hailed it as a victory.

At the conclusion of the G-20 summit on Sunday, September 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a virtual meeting in November to look at “how progress can be accelerated” on the various proposals that were made during the meetings.

The floral tributes paid by the leaders at Raj Ghat were the closest to a family photo for the New Delhi G-20 presidency. It was for the second year in a row that there was no joint photo session at the G-20 summit as the US and European leaders refused to be photographed together with Russia.

Earlier on Saturday, the G-20 adopted the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration on the first day of the summit in a surprise move. In the weeks leading up to the summit, and even the final days, the prevailing notion had been that it would be extremely difficult to obtain a consensus over the Ukraine war to release the joint statement. The absence of joint statements at all the G-20 ministerial meetings over the last eight months was a testament to the uphill task.

“When looking at the Declaration, I think the fact that we have consensus around the document was far from clear until the very last moment,” said a senior European Union official familiar with the negotiations.

Also expressing surprise at the final shape and release of the declaration, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that “frankly we didn’t expect that”. “We were ready to defend our wording of the text. The Global South is no longer willing to be lectured,” he told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

Also read: G20’s New Delhi Declaration Released: Consensus Text Doesn’t Condemn Russia for Ukraine War

He even described the corralling of all the G-20 sherpas at a five-star hotel in Manesar as akin to the closed-door deliberations in Vatican City to select a new Pope.

“They closed it about 100 km away and, just like the Pope was being elected, there was no smoke, but, in my opinion, a very positive outcome.”

He added that “99%” of the work on the declaration was done before the summit, with the “finishing touches” added by the principals at the last minute. The contentious issue of the Ukraine war was pushed at the end after largely finalising the vast majority of the 83 paragraphs of the leaders’ edclaration.

Last year in Bali, the G-20 declaration had noted the UN resolutions criticising the Ukraine.

In Bali last year, most members had deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine”. It had also noted that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”.

Session one of the G20 summit. Photo: X(Twitter)/@narendramodi

In contrast, the Delhi declaration talks about “the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security”.

This year’s joint statement also called on states to “refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition”, but without taking any names. The only time that Russia’s name was taken in context of Ukraine was in the paragraph related to the Black Sea grain deal.

Another paragraph also “highlighted human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine”, which could be seen as directed at Russia, but also notes “different views and assessments of the situation”.

Late Saturday night, the Ukrainian foreign ministry had noted that this declaration was “nothing to be proud of”, even as the entire Western leadership was hailing the document as a “success”.

The United States National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters: “From our perspective, it does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition or to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of other states.”

At the same time, it was a stunning climbdown for the Western countries and their leaders who had spent billions of dollars in sending arms and ammunition to Ukraine, imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Russia, and also had invested considerable domestic political, with European public opinion remaining highly sympathetic towards Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that the G20, which was founded to solve the Asian economic crisis, is not the “forum for political discussions”.

He added that the G-20 declaration was “not a diplomatic victory” for Russia. “This G20 confirms once again the isolation of Russia. Today, an overwhelming majority of G20 members condemn the war in Ukraine and its impact,” said Macron in a packed media conference at the International Media Centre.

Earlier on Saturday night, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said the paragraphs relating to the war in Ukraine as a “success”. “It is a statement which supports the territorial and sovereign integrity of Ukraine,” Scholz said in Delhi.

When asked about Western leaders hailing the declaration as a success, Lavrov responded, “You have read the text yourself and (can judge) the Western leaders if they believe that people are so naïve and suggest that this declaration is a condemnation of Russia. It never even mentions Russia.”

He further claimed that the paragraph that called for “cessation of military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure” was an indictment of Ukraine and the West. “Everybody understand that this is about the attacks on the Nordstream power pipeline, Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, Moscow power stations…”.

He expressed gratitude to “our Indian partners who prevented G20 from being so politicised as to paint Russia one way or another”.

The Indian G-20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant had pointed out on Saturday that the proposal for the text on Ukraine was led by the four emerging markets in G-20, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia.

Echoing the Indian foreign minister’s remarks a day earlier, Indian government sources told reporters on Sunday that the paragraphs on the Ukraine conflict in the New Delhi declaration must not be looked at from the perspective of last year’s Bali declaration. “It is a convergent consensus rather than a divisive consensus,” they said, adding that it could show a path towards actual negotiations to resolve the crisis.

Similarly, an EU diplomatic official claimed that the New Delhi declaration is “perhaps more stable” than that in Bali due to the absence of direct condemnation by Russia. While Russia and China had agreed to the joint statement in Bali in November 2022, they had withdrawn their consent and refused to accept the replication of the text in any other G-20 document.

“You may remember in Bali, we had worked with a different concept to split language. We were essentially quoting the UN General Assembly resolution that was only shared by some. So this time around, we didn’t go for split text,” he said.

He admitted that if the West had been “writing the text (in the Delhi Declaration) ourselves it would be looking very different”. “But the point here is that you build consensus around an international and a global issue that has effects and spillover effects to countries far away from Europe,” added the official.