New Delhi: A day before the end of summit, G-20 members reached a compromise over the language on the Ukraine war, allowing India to quickly release the joint communique in which the West largely climbed down from its position to accept a declaration that didn’t condemn Russia or call for withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian territory.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he wanted to convey the “good news” that consensus has been reached on the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration. “On the back of the hard work of all the teams, we have received consensus on the G20 Leaders Summit Declaration. I announce the adoption of this declaration,” he said, which was greeted by applause and thumping of desks.
The decision was announced unusually on the first day of the summit, without waiting for the conclusion of the two-day event.
Earlier, the G20 sherpa Amitabh Kant tweeted that there was “historical and path breaking G20 declaration with 100 percent consensus on all developmental and geo-political issues”.
Historical & Path breaking #G20 Declaration with 100% consensus on all developmental and geo-political issues. The new geopolitical paras are a powerful call for Planet, People, Peace and Prosperity in todays world . Demonstrates PM @narendramodi leadership in today’s world.
— Amitabh Kant (@amitabhk87) September 9, 2023
Very shortly after the announcement, the New Delhi declaration was released – an unusual practice for a summit that has not ended.
While Russia said that “balance” had been restored by the text related to the Ukraine war adopted in the Declaration, the Ukrainian foreign ministry’s spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said that “G20 has nothing to be proud of”.
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.
But in a couple of months, countries withdrew their agreement to the paragraphs. That meant that when India started to hold the ministerial meetings under its presidency, not a single joint communique was issued. Instead, the paragraph related to Ukraine, which is based on the template of the Bali Declaration, were characterised as “Chair’s Summary”, with Chinese and Russian objections to the text included as footnotes.
In pre-summit media briefing, Kant had said on Friday, September 8, that the Declaration was “almost ready”, but unofficially, there had been a lot of anxiety a final text would not be clinched. The European Council President Charles Michel had also said he couldn’t predict if a consensus would be reached over a joint statement, largely due to divisive positions on Ukraine.
According to diplomatic sources, the Indian side had circulated a new text on Ukraine late at night, which led to a buzz on a Saturday morning that a breakthrough had been reached.
Official sources said that there was “positivity”, adding that if there was approval from all the countries, India would quickly “lock in” the text and announce it. “We don’t want any buyer’s remorse,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, India did not lose any time and wait for another day when all delegations seem to be on the same page.
In an uncommon diplomatic practice, the joint statement, which is usually seen as the key document released only after conclusion of the entire summit, was made public in the second half of the first day when the prime minister surprisingly called for it to be adopted.
Addressing the media after the release of the New Delhi Declaration, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said that due to the “obviously because of the ongoing conflict and strong views about it, considerable time was spent on geopolitical issues which was centred around the war in Ukraine”.
While he said that “eventually everybody helped out”, Jaishankar singled out “emerging markets” for taking the lead. “A common landing point was ultimately fashioned out”.
When asked about Xi Jinping’s absence, Jaishankar said that China had been “very constructive” during the discussions.
Chiming in, Kant said that India “worked very closely with Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia”. “There were very tough and ruthless negotiations that went on days non-stop,” he added.
Ahead of the summit, there had been officially four days of sherpa talks, but the language was thrashed out over a longer period. “I believe that this was probably one of the most difficult G20 summits in the almost fifteen-year history of the forum at the leader level. It took almost 20 days to agree on the declaration,” Russia’s G20 sherpa Svetlana Lukash told TASS news agency.
Kant also credited the “leadership of the prime minister” to be able to reach a consensus on the declaration.
In the declaration of 83 paragraphs, there are arguably seven paragraphs which deal with the Ukraine war. However, one of them is a stand-alone paragraph which just lists the sentence – “Today’s era must not be of war”.
“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 2023 G-20 Declaration.
A comparison to the Bali Declaration shows that there was deletion of the language that “deplores 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 means that compared to Bali Declaration, the text does not explicitly identify Russia as the perpetrator nor refer to Ukraine as the victim in the conflict
There is also no mention of the text used in last year that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”.
At the summit in Indonesia, Russia and China had been appeased by adding the line that there “were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.
As per the unofficial note issued by government sources to political reporters, the New Delhi Declaration was described as a “climbdown” by the G7 and EU over the language on Bali.
Foreign minister Jaishankar claimed that that “Bali was Bali and New Delhi was New Delhi”.
“One should not have a theological view on this. The New Delhi declaration response to the current situation just as Bali declaration was a year ago,” he said.
The New Delhi Declaration does not mention Russia in context of war in Ukraine, but only refers to it twice in the paragraph dealing with the stalled Black sea grain deal. In the same breath, the sentence also mentions the initiative to allow for Russian product to reach the international market.
“We appreciate the efforts of Türkiye and UN-brokered Istanbul Agreements consisting of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Federation and the 3 Zero Draft Secretariat of the United Nations on Promoting Russian Food Products and Fertilizers to the World Markets and the Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian Ports (Black Sea Initiative), and call for their full, timely and effective implementation to ensure the immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilizers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine. This is necessary to meet the demand in developing and least developed countries, particularly those in Africa”.
Further, it added that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”, a priority for the western countries.
The next paragraph, which is similar to the language used in the Bali Declaration and subsequent outcome documents this year, stated, “Reaffirming that the G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and recognizing that while the G20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, we acknowledge that these issues can have significant consequences for the global economy”.
Besides, the G20 Declaration also speaks about the “human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth, which has complicated the policy environment for countries, especially developing and least developed countries which are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruption which has derailed progress towards the SDGs”.
What the other countries said
The G7 chair, Japan, told reporters in Delhi that Tokyo “believes that it is significant that Russia and emerging markets could share the views on these points”.
To persistent question on the lack of condemnation of Russia, Japanese official spokesperson Hikariko Ono listed out the language in the text which the G7 felt would constrain Russian actions in Ukraine. She highlighted the phrase about all states “must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition” as well as the line that the use of nuclear weapons is “inadmissible”.
She further claimed that the “devastating impact” of the Ukraine war was mentioned in the paragraph 10 that talked of “human suffering”, especially in developing countries. But, the declaration also noted that there were differing views among the G20 members.
The Japanese spokesperson also noted that it was satisfied with the call for states to “uphold the principles of territorial integrity” and the “cessation of military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure”.
She also claimed that the line about support for “comprehensive, just and durable peace” in Ukraine “evolved from the (Ukrainian) President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech at Bali”
Zelensky was not invited by India to speak at the G20 summit despite pressure from the US and other allies of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters the G20 summit declaration on Saturday demonstrated a clear position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by saying that the territorial integrity of countries cannot be called into question with violence.
French diplomatic sources also stated that it was a “very satisfactory G20 declaration from our point of view”.
Justifying the text, the sources noted that in order to achieve consensus “on a subject as divisive as Ukraine”, France had reaffirmed “what we said in Bali”. This was done through referring to UN texts.
However, while the New Delhi Declaration does reference to the UN resolutions, it doesn’t quote from their text which directly condemned Russia and asked for unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops.
The French official sources also claimed that there were a few other points “which are not necessarily obvious for everyone”. Just like the Japanese spokesperson, the sources cited the reference to the war of territorial conquest being unacceptable, territorial integrity and that a just and lasting peace must respect these principles.
“All this is well incorporated in the text and, as was our main objective at this summit, enables us to look ahead to what should be the solution for a just and lasting peace at the end of the war in Ukraine,” said sources from the French delegation.
They also argued that even though the line about states refraining from use of force doesn’t mention Russia, only one state qualified on that criterion at present. “Russia is the only country to have done so. All this helps to build consensus for the future,” said sources
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan termed the joint statement a “significant milestone for India’s chairmanship and a vote of confidence that the G20 can come together to address a pressing range of issues.”
In line with the argument deployed to justify approving the Declaration, Sullivan said, “The G20 statement includes a set of consequential paragraphs on the war in Ukraine. And from our perspective, it does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition”.
Meanwhile, the Russian side seemed satisfied that they were going back home with a text which didn’t condemn them and diluted the language of the Bali declaration.
Lukash, Russia’s G-20 Sherpa said that the “key achievement” of the Delhi was that G-20 “sounds like the voice of the developing world”.
Echoing Indian ministers’ words, Lukash said that Russia received “full support” from its BRICS partners. “For Russia, the most important thing, probably, at this summit was that we were not alone. We had the full support of our partners both in BRICS and the broader platform of developing economies,” said the Russian Sherpa.
“Half of the G20 refused to interpret events in the interests of how the West presents them,” Lukash told TASS, recalling that Moscow had been listening to accusations in its direction for a year that “the Ukrainian conflict provokes a deterioration in the food security situation.” .
Demonstrating the euphoria in the Russian camp, Lukas emphasized that the situation “is now reflected in a balanced form”.
The Ukrainians did not make any effort to hide their unhappiness.
Stating that the declaration was nothing to be proud off, foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko tweeted a screenshot, with several pieces of the text from the declaration crossed out in red and corrected with wording which reflects Ukraine’s position that it is a victim of unprovoked Russian aggression.
G20 adopted a final declaration. We are grateful to the partners who tried to include strong wording in the text. However, in terms of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, G20 has nothing to be proud of. This is how the main elements of the text could look to be closer to reality pic.twitter.com/qZqYluVKKS
— Oleg Nikolenko (@OlegNikolenko_) September 9, 2023
This article has been updated multiple times since publication as news came in.