G20: The war in Ukraine clouds India’s aspirations

In recent years, India has positioned itself as the dominant voice of the Global South of emerging nations.

Delhi’s role as G20 presidency has given it the biggest platform possible to perform.

85% of the world’s economic production and two-thirds of its population are produced by the world’s 19 richest countries and the European Union together.

Any bigger accords that India expects to deliver, however, will largely rest on one crucial factor: the conflict in Ukraine, when its foreign ministers convene in Delhi.

While world leaders sat down for dinner during the G20 summit last September in Bali, which Indonesia was hosting, Russian missiles struck critical Ukrainian infrastructure targets. Differences were evident in the unified communique, with India, China, and Russia allegedly refusing to agree to a formal denial of the invasion.

Since then, not much has changed: the conflict has continued with little indication of peace negotiations; the world is still divided, if not much more so; and many significant economies are still in disarray.

Given this context, the failure of the G20 finance ministers to reach consensus on a closing statement following their meeting in Bangalore (Bengaluru) last week wasn’t unexpected. Parts of a concluding statement that condemned Russia’s aggression “in the strongest terms” were rejected by both Moscow and Beijing.

The chair’s summary was left up to India, who acknowledged “differing perceptions of the situation” in Ukraine among the group. Similar obstacles are likely to arise during the Wednesday and Thursday meetings of the foreign ministers.

“India is taking seriously its G20 chairmanship. So, it will make every effort to make this meeting a success. There will be many flourishes of symbolism. The Ukraine crisis will dominate everything else in terms of substance, “Deputy director of the Wilson Center think tank Michael Kugelman makes this statement.

India wants to concentrate on problems it believes the poor world faces more urgently. Climate change, the rising cost of debt for emerging countries, the digital revolution, rising inflation, and the security of food and energy are now on the agenda.

The pandemic-related economic recovery is still being hampered by increased prices brought on by the war. According to experts, Delhi will need shrewd diplomacy to persuade the group to look beyond Ukraine; yet, agreements on “low hanging fruit” problems are believed to be attainable.

Delhi will be hoping to use this week’s discussions to get things moving ahead of a leaders’ meeting in September.

According to Jitendra Nath Misra, a former Indian ambassador who is currently a professor at OP Jindal Global University, “India will try to figure out a compromise statement that doesn’t totally satisfy everybody, but that everybody can live with.” But it won’t be simple, as nations on both sides of the conflict have further reinforced their positions in recent months.

India’s own posture has come in for scrutiny and condemnation too. It has refrained from directly attacking Russia, with which it has long-standing connections, despite growing purchases of Russian oil. Western powers were not initially pleased with Delhi’s non-aligned policy, but an understanding appears to have developed.

India may not have specifically criticized Russia in its prior pronouncements on Ukraine, but it has spoken about the value of “the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference last October was interpreted as indirect criticism of Russia. In the presence of President Putin, Mr. Modi declared at the meeting in Uzbekistan that “the modern era is not one of conflict.”

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Putin and Indian Prime Minister Modi will have a meeting at the SCO conference.
According to Mr. Kugelman, it is unlikely that India will face pressure to take a harder line against Russia during the G20 negotiations. Yet, he draws attention to other discrepancies within the group that can jeopardize India’s goals.

India and China have tense relations as a result of their disputed boundary. He claims that relations between the West and Russia are “as terrible as ever” and that the “spy balloon” scandal has further strained relations between Beijing and Washington.

When top diplomats from opposing sides meet in Delhi, the atmosphere will be hostile. So, according to experts, Mr. Modi and his foreign minister S. Jaishankar will need to employ all of their interpersonal and diplomatic abilities if they want to avoid rivalries from influencing the results of the negotiations.

“Delhi prides itself on its ability to juggle rival alliances but given the depth and the scale of the anger and geopolitical tensions inside this group, it will have to work harder,” Mr Kugelman adds. But India has previously demonstrated its ability to navigate a variety of geopolitical disputes.

Delhi will also be under pressure to perform well at home because it has extensively invested in advertising a G20 meeting that will be held in the “mother of democracies” under Mr. Modi’s direction. Particularly in the run-up to the general election campaigning the following year, he would want to demonstrate that he has been able to strengthen India’s position in the international arena.

“India is making every effort it can to hold gatherings around the nation to inform the population about the G20. That’s all very excellent, but it does not overcome the underlying strategic challenge that India faces right now on how to not allow the conflict disturb its objectives, “says Mr Misra.

India sees itself as a link between the developed and developing nations, according to Mr. Kugelman, and intends to use its G20 chair to play the “middle power.”

They are attempting to tie the G20 to the fact that they now have a leader who can reestablish them as a global power.

For India, he claims that “the challenge is cut out.” How can one distinguish between matters where concrete agreements may be reached and so-called radioactive issues?

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