India wanted to avoid a fight against Ukraine at the G-20. Blinken had other plans.


NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on world powers meeting in India’s capital on Thursday to be inspired by Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi and “not to focus on what divides but on what unites us”.

It was a not-so-subtle warning that deep divisions over the war in Ukraine risked spoiling India’s ambitious agenda as host of this week’s Group of 20 meeting, a gathering of foreign ministers foreign countries representing the world’s 20 largest economies.

India’s populist leader hopes to unite the world behind an agenda of food and energy security, anti-corruption, disaster resilience and counter-terrorism. But other countries arriving in New Delhi insist the Ukraine conflict cannot simply be swept under the rug.

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Western and European powers led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken are using the rally to condemn the Russian invasion and bolster support for Ukraine as its economy languishes under the constant barrage of Russian missile and drone attacks.

China and Russia, meanwhile, are portraying themselves as peacemakers, pushing for negotiations that could end a year-long conflict that has dramatically increased global food and oil prices. energy.

The message has some appeal to countries in the developing world whose economies are reeling from stubbornly high inflation and view war as a pointless European conflict. But others see Moscow’s incursion as an acute threat to global principles of sovereignty and non-aggression.

Amid disagreements, Modi attempts to find a theme of unity and compromise.

“We must not let problems we cannot solve together get in the way of those we can,” Modi said in his opening speech. “As you meet in the land of Gandhi and the Buddha, I pray that you will be inspired by the civilizational ethos of India.”

Modi’s plea forces the US to engage in a delicate dance. Blinken and his top aides want to remain respectful of Modi’s wishes as host, especially as they seek to woo India as a counterweight to a rising China. But they are convinced that the war raging in Europe cannot be ignored.

“We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine in the interest of international peace and economic stability,” Blinken said at the first session of the G -20 Thursday.

“Even as we rally support for Ukraine, we remain focused and at the forefront of global challenges. This is what the world needs and expects,” he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used his remarks to ‘apologize’ to representatives from India and the South for the ‘indecent behavior of a number of Western delegations’ including remarks on the war in Ukraine turned the meeting into a “farce”, according to Russia. state-owned Sputnik news outlet.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, meanwhile, has promoted China’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine as something the entire G-20 should rally behind.

“Global development and prosperity cannot be achieved without a peaceful and stable international environment,” Qin said in a statement.

Modi wants to avoid a repeat of what happened at the G-20 finance officials’ meeting last week, when countries failed to reach consensus on the joint communiqué after Russia and China objected to two paragraphs that criticized the “war in Ukraine” as harming the global economy, according to Indian officials.

Although the G-20 issued joint statements from Indonesia last year containing similar language, Russia and China did not greenlight the language this year. Russian and Chinese officials objected to the use of the word “war” in the statement.

Indian officials have often repeated Modi’s slogan, “this is not the era of war”, to convey what India says is its neutral stance condemning neither Russia nor Ukraine. This language was also found in the paragraphs rejected by China and Russia.

Blinken’s pitch to G-20 countries that have been neutral in the conflict is that they shouldn’t see Russia as a country open to “meaningful diplomacy.”

In Uzbekistan on Wednesday, Blinken said no one wants to end the war sooner than the Ukrainians – but there is “no evidence” that the Russians want to negotiate in good faith.

Blinken said the Kremlin’s position that Ukraine must accept Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory as a precondition for negotiations should not be accepted by any nation.

“It’s obviously a non-starter and should be a non-starter, not just for Ukraine and for us, but for countries around the world,” Blinken said.

US officials have also raised doubts about China’s ability to be a productive mediator in the conflict, given its longstanding ties to the Kremlin.

Other European countries at the G-20 echoed Blinken’s skepticism of Russian or Chinese diplomatic overtures. Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra says countries must provide material support to Ukraine ‘because there is no alternative for Ukraine but success on the battlefield’ .

“Only if Ukraine succeeds on the battlefield can it succeed at a negotiating table,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Berlin on Thursday that no one should negotiate a peace deal “over the heads of the Ukrainians”.

Right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made an appearance at the event and laid out a unique stance calling on India to play a key role in ending the war.

Appearing alongside her Indian counterpart in a joint speech, Meloni said she hoped Modi “could play a pivotal role in facilitating a negotiation process for the cessation of hostilities for a just peace”.

Modi’s government has been heavily publicizing its role as host of the G-20 as part of a campaign to rally domestic political support and portray India as a geopolitical heavyweight, especially among countries from South. As US-China relations have frayed, India has positioned itself as a key player in global supply chains and international diplomacy.

While India’s neutral stance has been criticized by some Western politicians, the country has underscored its economic dependence on Russian oil and military equipment.

Russia is now India’s third-largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost a fifth of its imports by value last year, according to data from India’s Commerce Ministry.

This close relationship has created unease in Washington, particularly in Congress. But a senior State Department official said India’s energy ties were less of a problem given the Western-imposed cap on Russian oil prices.

“Indians are buying well below the ceiling price,” the official said. “It’s good for the Indian economy. It stabilizes the oil markets. This deprives Russia of excess revenue that can fuel war.

Gerry Shih and Anant Gupta in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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