New Delhi: The G-20 foreign ministers meeting ended here Thursday without a joint communique due to “divergences” over Ukraine, but also became the platform for the first face-to-face talks between the top US and Russian officials since the start of the war last year.
At the end of the day-long ministerial summit, Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar noted that no joint statement was possible with member states having further hardened their positions since last November’s G20 Bali Declaration.
“If we had a perfect meeting of minds on all issues and captured all issues fully – obviously, it would have been a collective statement. But, there were issues and the issues were, very frankly, concerned with the Ukraine conflict on which there were divergences,” Jaishankar admitted at a press briefing on Thursday evening.
He said that a ‘Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document’ had been released, recording the deliberations of the two-day event. “There was a chair’s summary because there were differences on the Ukraine issue which we could not reconcile between various parties who held differing positions”.
In many ways, the outcome today was a replay of what happened with the G20 finance ministers meeting in Bengaluru last week. The language used in the summary document to describe the Ukraine war was also replicated from the Bali Declaration (as did the finance ministers’ chair summary), with a footnote adding that China and Russia were dissociating from the text.
Jaishankar admitted that Russia and China had gone back from their endorsement of the Bali Declaration at Indonesia in November 2022. “Obviously, the Bali declaration, for whatever reason, some countries feel cannot be extrapolated given the state of polarisation, presumably due to developments since then. We found that the positions were very far apart. We tried very hard. We are not the only country who tried. The G20 works very, very collectively, but we were not able to bridge the gap”.
The foreign minister, however, sought to underline that there was a great deal of agreement on “the bulk of issues” concerning the Global South. “There were a large number of issues on which there was agreement, like strengthening multilateralism, promoting food and energy security, climate change, gender issues, counter terror… On the bulk of issues which concern the Global South, there was a considerable meeting of minds that has been captured by outcome document,” he said.
“In terms of the outcome document you will see that there was almost 90% agreement. Just on two paras we were not able to get everybody on the same page – or para,” added Jaishankar.
Running into 10 pages, the ‘Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document‘ covers’ a range of issues, including strengthening multilateralism, food and energy security, climate change and biodiversity, global health, counterterrorism, among others.
All eyes on Blinken and Lavrov
While the Ukraine war impeded the search for consensus, the New Delhi meeting did provide a foil for US secretary of state Anthony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to have their highest-level in-person meeting since the start of the invasion.
Both sides indicated that it was a short encounter. US officials said that the meeting was “unexpected” and lasted for around 10 minutes. However, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the meeting took place at the US’s request, while Lavrov was “on the go” during the afternoon session of the G20 meeting.
“Blinken asked for contact with Lavrov,” she told Tass, adding, “There were no negotiations, meetings and so on”.
Hours later, at a night time media briefing, Blinken confirmed that he spoke with Lavrov. He said that he told the Russian foreign minister that Washington would be steadfast in supporting Ukraine and called for ending the war through diplomatic terms based on Ukraine’s peace proposal.
He also asked Russia to stop its decision to withdraw from the New START nuclear agreement.
In the run-up to the meeting, both countries had insisted that there would be no such encounter. Blinken told reporters a day earlier in Tashkent that there was no meeting planned with his Russian and Chinese counterparts. Tass had also quoted Zakharova on Thursday morning that a meeting between the US and Russia would not take place.
The Indian foreign minister was asked at the briefing whether he facilitated the meeting, but he did not answer the question.
Russia, US trade charges
The G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting began with a recorded address from the Indian prime minister. In the closed-door session which followed, the West and Russia verbally attacked each other for damaging the global economy.
Blinken said that the G-20 meeting had “again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine”. Similarly, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock claimed that it was unfortunate that “one G20 member prevents all the other 19 from focusing all their efforts on these issues the G20 was created for”.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna asserted that the G20 must “respond firmly, like it did at the Bali Summit”.
Blaming the West, Russian foreign minister Lavrov said that the western delegations had “turned the work on the G20 agenda into a farce, wanting to shift the responsibility for their failures in the economy to the Russian Federation”.
According to Sputnik, Lavrov said that he wanted “to apologize to the Indian presidency and colleagues from the countries of the global South for the indecent behaviour of a number of Western delegations, who turned the work on the G20 agenda into a farce in an attempt to shift responsibility for failures in economic policy on others, primarily on Russia”.
Blinken and Lavrov sat on the same long table, five seats apart. Ahead of the G-20 meeting, there had negotiations on the seating arrangement, with the G-7 adamant that they did not want to be in proximity to Russia nor participate in a photo-op with them. There was no family photo at the end of the meeting.