Foreign ministers from the world’s largest economies gathered in New Delhi, setting the stage for a big test in Indian diplomacy as it attempts to manage tensions over Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
At the second high-level ministerial meeting under India’s chairmanship of the Group of 20 (G20) this year, the country’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will meet with his American, Chinese and Russian counterparts on Thursday, hoping to find enough common ground to make a joint statement. at the end of the summit.
The world’s largest democracy, with a population of over 1.3 billion, has been keen to position itself as a leader in emerging and developing countries – often referred to as the Global South – at a time when soaring food and energy prices following the war are hammering consumers already struggling with rising costs and inflation.
Those sentiments were front and center during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s opening speech on Thursday, when he spoke of the multiple crises facing the world, with less wealthy countries particularly affected.
“The experience of the past few years, financial crisis, climate change, pandemic, terrorism and wars clearly shows that global governance has failed,” Modi said.
“We must also admit that the tragic consequences of this failure affect especially the developing countries”, which, according to him, are the most affected by global warming “caused by the richest countries”.
Avoiding war in Ukraine, Modi acknowledged that the conflict was causing “deep global divisions”. But he encouraged foreign ministers to put aside their differences when they met on Thursday.
“We must not allow problems that we cannot solve together to hinder those that we can,” he said.
But analysts say India’s bid to push forward its agenda has been complicated by lingering divisions over the war.
Those differences showed up in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru last month when G20 finance chiefs failed to agree on a statement after their meeting. Russia and China refused to sign the joint statement, which criticized the invasion of Moscow. This left India to release a “Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document” in which it summed up the two days of talks and acknowledged disagreements.
Analysts say that throughout the war, New Delhi has skillfully balanced its ties with Russia and the West, with Modi emerging as a leader courted by all sides.
But as the war enters its second year and tensions continue to mount, pressure could mount on countries, including India, to take a tougher stance against Russia – testing Modi’s political skill.
Arguably India’s most famous event of the year, the G20 summit was heavily promoted domestically, with huge billboards depicting Modi’s face plastered across the country. The roads were cleaned and the buildings freshly painted before the visit of the dignitaries.
Set in the ‘mother of democracies’ under Modi’s leadership, his political allies have been keen to highlight his international credentials, describing him as a key player in global order.
Last year’s G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia issued a joint statement that echoed what Modi had told Russian President Vladimir Putin weeks earlier on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan.
“The era of today must not be that of war”, he said, inciting media and officials in India to claim that India had played a vital role in narrowing the differences between an isolated Russia and the United States and its allies.
India, analysts say, prides itself on its ability to balance relations. The country, like China, has refused to condemn Moscow’s brutal assault on Ukraine in various United Nations resolutions. Rather than cutting economic ties with the Kremlin, India undermined Western sanctions by increasing its purchases of Russian oil, coal and fertilizers.
But unlike China, India has grown closer to the West – especially the United States – despite its ties to Russia.
New Delhi’s ties with Moscow date back to the Cold War, and the country remains heavily dependent on the Kremlin for military equipment – a vital link given ongoing tensions between India and China on its shared Himalayan border.
The United States and India have taken steps in recent months to strengthen their defense partnership as both sides try to counter the rise of an increasingly assertive China.
Daniel Markey, senior adviser, South Asia, for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), said that while Indian leaders “wish to facilitate the end of this conflict that preserves New Delhi’s relationship with Washington and Moscow and puts Disruption of the Global Economy,” India had “no particular leverage” with Russia or Ukraine that would make a settlement likely.
“I believe other world leaders are also interested in playing a diplomatic peacemaking role. So when and if Putin wishes to come to the table to negotiate, there will be no shortage of diplomats hoping to help him,” he said. he declared.
Yet as Putin’s aggression continues to throw the global economy into chaos, India has signaled its intention to raise the many concerns facing countries in the global South, including climate challenges and food and energy security. , according to Modi’s opening speech.
“The world expects the G20 to address the challenges of growth, development, economic resilience, disaster resilience, financial stability, transnational crime, corruption, terrorism and security food and energy,” Modi said.
While Modi’s government appears keen to prioritize domestic challenges, experts say those issues could be sidelined by tensions between the US, Russia and China, which have recently increased over concerns from Washington that Beijing is planning to send lethal aid to the Kremlin’s ailing war effort.
Speaking to reporters last week, Ramin Toloui, the US Under Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, said that while Secretary of State Antony Blinken would highlight his efforts to address food and energy security issues, it “would also highlight the damage that Russia’s war of aggression has caused.
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 the principles of the UN Charter,” Toloui said.
At the same time, Russia in a statement On Wednesday, the United States and the European Union were accused of “terrorism”, saying they were “ready to clearly state Russia’s assessments” of the current food and energy crisis.
“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” , Russia said, hinting at the difficulties that New Delhi could face. during the meeting.
India has “worked very hard not to be stuck on one side or the other,” Markey said. The country could not “afford to alienate Russia or the United States and Modi does not want the war discussion to force tough decisions or distract from other issues, such as green economic development and sustainable,” he added.
But with ties between Washington and Beijing falling after the US military downed what it says was a Chinese spy balloon that flew over US territory, New Delhi will have to carefully navigate difficult negotiations between conflicting views. .
China maintains that the balloon, which US forces shot down in February, was a civilian research aircraft accidentally blown off course, and the fallout led Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing.
As differences are likely to play out at Thursday’s ministerial meeting, analysts said India could see even limited progress as a victory.
“Any joint statement would likely be presented in the Indian media as a diplomatic achievement,” Markey said. “But its broader meaning would be limited.”