India has just wrapped up a hugely successful G20 summit. And the announcement of the Delhi Declaration was a cherry on the top, given that this has been, in the words of Svetlana Lukash – a Russian government negotiator "one of the most difficult G20 summits" in the almost 25-year-old history of the forum.
"It took almost 20 days to agree on the declaration before the summit and five days here on the spot," Lukash is reported to have told Russian news agency Interfax.
The joint statement is arrived at through the consensus of all member states and so inevitably, the language used cannot be strident but the greatest wrangling had been over the Ukraine conflict which in the words of EAM S Jaishankar had been the most "problematic" issue at the summit.
What Putin and Xi’s Absence Signalled
The conflict has created a huge divide between the West on one hand, and Russia and China on the other. India too has steadfastly adhered to a 'neutral' position in the conflict, refusing to give into significant western pressure to call out Russia as an aggressor and to stop buying Russian oil at discounted rates, profitable for it.
To put things into perspective – the differing views on the war had prevented agreement on even a single communique at ministerial meetings held during India’s G20 presidency.
Furthermore, not just Russian President Vladimir Putin was absent from the summit, sending his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov instead, but Chinese President Xi Jinping too marked his absence at the summit.
If Putin's absence could be excused, he had not attended the last G20 summit in Bali nor the more recently held BRICS summit in South Africa –and was not traveling abroad since an arrest warrant had been issued for him by the International Criminal Court. Xi's absence, on the other hand, was interpreted as nothing but a snub to the grouping, as he had attended every single G20 meeting since the group's inception.
Such absence showed a group riddled with internal rivalries and contradictions and sparked numerous doomsday predictions that New Delhi would be unable to provide any consensual document, for the first time in the history of the grouping.
No doubt, such speculation has added an extra layer of sweetness to the ensuing Delhi Declaration.
The Declaration itself could be said to be a barometer of India's global clout as well as that of the Global South, heralding a post-West moment.
Most G20 Nations Remain Critical of War in Ukraine
At the last G20 summit held in Bali, Indonesia last year - the first since Russia began its military operations in Ukraine - the Leaders' Declaration issued in point 3 of the document on the Ukraine conflict stated "....We reiterated our national positions as expressed in other fora, including the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, which, in Resolution No ES-11/1 dated 2 March 2022, as adopted by majority vote (141 votes for, 5 against, 35 abstentions,12 absent) 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.
Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy – constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks."
It also highlighted that "There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions. Recognising that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy."
Russia had then hailed the declaration as a "balanced" text and the Kremlin had published the Russian version of the text on its website.
'Consensus’ as a Balancer
In the week prior to the Delhi summit, however, Sergei Lavrov was reported to have said at a Moscow event that Moscow would block the summit’s final declaration unless its position on Ukraine and other issues were reflected in the document. At a press conference in Delhi, the Russian Ambassador to India Denis Alipov said the G20 was established for resolving financial and economic problems that the world faces, and not to deliberate on geopolitical issues.
The Western draft of the statement, on the other hand, had wanted to call out Russia as the 'aggressor' and there was pressure on New Delhi. In the words of G20 sherpa Amitabh Kant, forging consensus on the geopolitical paras, that is, Russia-Ukraine was the "most complex part of the entire #G20". "This was done over 200 hours of non-stop negotiations, 300 bilateral meetings, 15 drafts..." he wrote on X.
Not just the sherpas and diplomats, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also personally reached out to his counterparts in the G20.
The final draft produced was not only a very watered-down one but so neutral and lofty that it would have been difficult for any side to find fault with it.
For instance, the clause on Ukraine read thus: "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. "
It further states, "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. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible."
Nowhere was Russia named. Yet, the last two lines were unmistakably directed at Russia with regard to the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk from Ukraine, something that placates the Western countries.
Russia: The Elephant in the Room
The declaration also spoke 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....." without alluding to any one side which could be interpreted as highlighting the suffering of either and/or all sides of the conflict.
Meanwhile, the following line "There were different views and assessments of the situation" summed up the situation for all sides.
The declaration also called for a resumption of the Black Sea grain deal, ".....for their full, timely and effective implementation to ensure the immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuff, and fertilizers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine," which again helped placate both sides of the conflict.
Calling the Delhi G20 summit a "milestone”, Lavrov said that India as G20 president had played a decisive role in building consensus on the Ukraine paragraphs in the joint declaration, which "fully reflects our position”.
The consensus reached reflected that while the G7 countries would have liked a more strongly worded draft, they were willing to compromise.
India’s Diplomatic Stand Firms Its Position as a Global Voice
This is a reflection both of India's diplomatic prowess and of the fact that the G7 now has to contend with and accommodate the views of the Global South on global issues. This is not only about the African Union (AU).
From India to Saudi Arabia, countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), to majority of the Latin American countries, and, of course, the AU have been reluctant to take a pro-West position on the Ukraine conflict.
While many have been negatively impacted due to the disruption of supply chains caused by the war, and all want an end to the conflict, they have not taken an anti-Russian position, or approved of the western sanctions on Russia.
This was most widely witnessed in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum earlier this year, the African peace plan for an end to the Ukraine conflict, and, more recently, in the Jeddah peace talks on Ukraine where these countries made their voice heard and presence felt. This applied to the G20 summit too.
European Union officials have understood this and some, on conditions of anonymity, have acknowledged this. With the induction of the African Union, this voice is all set to grow. And India has emerged as its leader.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)