New Delhi: Addressing a room reflecting the deep geopolitical fissures over Ukraine, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday morning urged G20 foreign ministers not to allow polarising issues to prevent consensus on other less contentious matters.
The foreign ministers of the group of 20 economies began their day-long deliberations with a recorded speech from Modi, followed by two sessions on topics ranging from multilateralism to food and energy security and counter-terrorism.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 2, 2023
However, the shadow of the continuing Ukraine conflict loomed large, creating uncertainties on whether the meeting will yield a joint statement. Negotiations had gone on among the delegations till the early hours of Wednesday morning to bridge the gap over the wording on Ukraine in the document.
Reflecting concerns that differences will continue to put a spanner in the works and stall a consensus on a common outcome document, Modi said that G20 could deliver “concrete results” on the challenges of “growth, development, economic resilience, disaster resilience, financial stability, trans-national crime, corruption, terrorism, and food and energy security”.
“We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can,” he urged.
Modi noted that as foreign ministers, it was natural that discussions “are affected by the geopolitical tensions of the day”.
“We all have our positions and our perspectives on how these tensions should be resolved. However, as the leading economies of the world, we also have a responsibility towards those who are not in this room,” the Indian prime minister said.
As a result of the differences, no joint statement was issued at the G20 finance ministers’ meeting held in Bengaluru last week. Instead, a chair’s summary, issued by India, adopted the text on Ukraine which was agreed to in the G20 Bali declaration of November 2022. However, in contrast to the 2021 declaration, Russia and China explicitly disassociated from the two paragraphs related to Ukraine. A similar template was being pushed for the foreign ministers’ meeting, with India reportedly hoping that Russia and China would drop their objection to the consensus text reached in Bali.
The seating arrangement of the foreign ministers at the resplendent hall in the Rashtrapati Bhawan was alphabetical – and subject to intense negotiations ahead of the meeting.
On one of the longer tables, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken was five seats away from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The veteran Russian diplomat was seated between the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
As per diplomatic sources, G7 members, the group of developed countries, had agreed amongst themselves that they would not walk out when Lavrov delivered his speech. However, since many foreign ministers had also scheduled bilateral meetings, they were still going in and out of the hall.
The interventions of the foreign ministers were closed to the media. However, Russia, the UK and EU representatives had stated that before travelling to New Delhi, they would forcefully put forth their positions on the Ukraine conflict.
Despite agreeing to not walk out, the G7 were adamant that they would not take a ‘family photo’ at the conclusion of the meeting, as The Wire had reported.
The Western countries’ reluctance to be seen at the same event as Russia had also restricted India from issuing photographs of the gala dinner. The only image of the dinner guests was tweeted by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, which showed him enjoying the cultural offerings. The grainy image showed Lavrov seated at the extreme end of the front row, far away from Western ministers.