G20 logo pictured outside the Bharat Mandapam at ITPO Convention Centre, Pragati Maidan, the venue of the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit in New Delhi, India, 31 August 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/HARISH TYAGI

Ukraine war, a thorny issue for India’s G20 leadership ambitions

New Delhi, Sep 4 (EFE).- India’s ambivalent stance on the Ukraine war has undermined its role of the leader of G20, as New Delhi tries to prevent the conflict from being put on the agenda of the upcoming leaders’ summit and position itself as a mediator between its historic ally Russia and the emerging major partner United States.

Participating countries’ flags pictured outside the Bharat Mandapam at ITPO Convention Centre, Pragati Maidan, the venue of the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit in New Delhi, India, 31 August 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/HARISH TYAGI

The G20 summit, set to be held in the Indian capital on Sep. 9-10, comes at a time of a major rift in the bloc, as the West has been maneuvering to make the Ukraine war a focal point of the discussions and calling for a unanimous condemnation of Moscow’s role in the final resolution.

However, both Russia and China are set to block a document condemning the war, and therefore if the Ukraine issue is put on the table, the possibilities of reaching an agreement after the meeting would practically disappear.

The prospect of not achieving a consensus has been preoccupying the team of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been aiming to use the rotating presidency of the G20 to emerge as the voice of the aspirations and concerns of the Global South.

Diverting the focus from the war has been one of the major challenges for India as the G20 chair, as it seeks to avoid compromising its parallel interests.

Apart from not inviting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the G20 “sherpas” – high-ranking diplomats tasked with negotiating on behalf of national leaders – have insisted on putting aside the Ukraine issue in successive forums in order to smoothly deal with other major issues – such as debt, climate action and technological transformations – which were the driving force behind the bloc’s creation.

From India’s perspective, the G20 is “not really made for solving peace and conflict issues and the ability of G20 to resolve this conflict or to mediate in this conflict is fairly limited,” Harsh V Pant, the head of the strategic studies program at Indian think-tank Observer Research Foundation, told EFE.

However, the clear frictions between the Russia and the West will prove a challenge for India as it is unlikely that a joint statement could be issued during the summit, he added.

In this regard, not discussing Ukraine would help India to “tread a balance between its historical relationship with Russia and its new growing partnership with the United States,” Manjari Chatterjee Miller, a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, told EFE.

So far, “it is unclear whether India will be able to negotiate a summit consensus statement,” Chatterjee-Miller said, as  it has to find a way of avoiding the word “war” in the final draft to escape the ire of Kremlin.

“India itself is unwilling to use the word ‘war’: this is because it still has a good relationship with Russia, it is continuing to buy cheap Russian oil and rely on Russian weaponry,” she underlined.

Moreover, New Delhi is also concerned about the growing warmth in the historic close ties between Moscow and Beijing – a regional rival – as both these powers have “objected to any statement that refers to the conflict as ‘war’ and refused to sign on to paragraphs that refer to the global fragility and instability created by the conflict,” she added.

Focusing on the concerns of the developing world instead of the war “can perhaps be a mechanism whereby some kind of a consensus can be generated. And I think that’s what the aim (for India) would be in the G20 summit,” Pant said.

This is how India could possibly demonstrate to the group “its capacity to build bridges among different stakeholders on global governance agenda and also articulate a role for itself in the multilateral order, where it has not really been present for some time,” he concluded. EFE