Ukraine war, absence of Putin and Xi set to dent G20 summit

FILE PHOTO: Traffic moves past under a G20 logo installed on a pedestrian bridge in front of the main venue of the summit in New Delhi

By Aftab Ahmed, Krishn Kaushik and YP Rajesh

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Deeper and more entrenched divisions over Russia's war in Ukraine risk derailing progress on issues such as food security, debt distress and global cooperation on climate change when the world's most powerful nations meet this weekend in New Delhi.

The hardened stance on the war has prevented agreement on even a single communique at the 20 or so ministerial meetings of the G20 during India's presidency this year, leaving it to the leaders to find a way around, if possible.

But China will be represented by Premier Li Qiang, not President Xi Jinping, while Russia has confirmed President Vladimir Putin's absence, suggesting that neither nation is likely to join any consensus.

That means the two-day summit from September 9 will be dominated by the West and its allies. The G20 leaders who will attend include U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Bin Salman and Japan's Fumio Kishida.

A failed summit would expose the limits of cooperation between Western and non-Western powers, and prompt countries to double down on the groups they are more comfortable with, analysts said.

To tackle global threats "breaking off into Western and non-Western blocs isn't what you want," said Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Failing to forge a consensus will also hurt the diplomatic credentials of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is using the presidency to bolster New Delhi's position as economic powerhouse and a leader of the global south.

"If the leaders' summit is a flop, New Delhi and especially Modi will have suffered a major diplomatic, and political, setback," Kugelman said.

India, which has not condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, will have to either convince the bloc to agree to a joint statement - the so-called Leaders Declaration - or allow its presidency to be the first to end without such a communique since 2008.

"The positions have hardened since the Bali Summit," a senior Indian government official told Reuters, referring to the 2022 summit held in Indonesia. "Russia and China have toughened their position since then, a consensus would be very hard."


In Bali, Indonesian President Joko Widodo clinched a last minute joint statement from the bloc. India is hoping that the leaders can again work something out at the last minute, another government official said.

The Bali Leaders' Declaration said "most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy."

It also said that "there were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions."

Another Indian official said that in Bali, "Russia and China were more flexible." But as the war completes 18 months, countries "are not agreeing even to the language used in the Bali Declaration".

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who will come in place of Putin, have already drawn battlelines.

Trudeau, while confirming that he will travel to India for the meeting in a call with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said that he was disappointed that the Ukrainian president was not invited.

"As you know, we will be speaking up strongly for you, and we will continue to make sure that the world is standing with Ukraine," Trudeau said in the call with Zelenskiy.

Lavrov said last week Russia will block the final declaration of the G20 summit unless it reflects Moscow's position on Kyiv and other crises. Diplomats said any acceptance of Moscow's stance was highly improbable, and the summit would most likely end up issuing a non-binding or partial communique.


Last month, the BRICS group of nations, where China is the heavyweight, added half a dozen more countries to the bloc in a push to reshuffle a world order it sees as outdated.

"Xi’s absence may be Beijing’s attempt to put a nail in the G20’s coffin, only weeks after expanding the BRICS organization which is more aligned with China’s world view," said David Boling, director at consulting firm Eurasia Group.

India is a member of BRICS, along with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa, and had some concerns about the bloc's expansion earlier. But at the summit in Johannesburg last month, it joined a consensus on the criteria for new entrants.

In its G20 presidency, India has sought to relegate the differences over Ukraine to the background and pushed for resolution on climate change, debt for vulnerable countries, rules around cryptocurrencies and multilateral bank reforms.

New Delhi has also attempted to break an impasse over a deal that allowed the safe export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea, but Russia is unlikely to budge from its opposition to the plan, Indian officials said.

Over the year, there has been little progress on debt restructuring talks and a minimum global corporate tax, but India has been able to gain support from the U.S. and the IMF for over-arching global regulations on cryptocurrencies.

A G20 committee under former Indian bureaucrat N.K. Singh and economist Larry Summers, a former U.S. treasury secretary, has also proposed increasing lending by multilateral banks to developing countries. The proposal has not been agreed on yet.

Climate change goals had also divided developed and developing countries in July meetings of the group and officials said the positions are not likely to change at the summit.

(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, Kentaro Sugiyama and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo)