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G20 Declaration Acknowledges Ukrainians’ ‘Suffering,’ Omits Criticism of Russia

September 10, 2023

At the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi on Saturday evening, a meticulously negotiated declaration veered away from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or its conduct of the war, opting instead to express lament for the ‘suffering’ endured by the Ukrainian people.

This marked a stark contrast to a similar document endorsed less than a year ago in Bali, where leaders acknowledged differing perspectives on the invasion but still issued a robust condemnation of the Russian incursion, calling on Moscow to withdraw its troops.

This year, with low expectations of the divided group achieving consensus with Ukraine, the declaration cited previous United Nations resolutions denouncing the war and acknowledged the ‘adverse impact of wars and conflicts around the world.’ It also urged Russia to permit the export of grain and fertilizer from Ukraine and ‘to support a comprehensive, just, and durable peace.’

American officials defended the agreement, asserting that it built upon last year’s statement and emphasized the United States’ ongoing commitment to peace in Ukraine.

“From our perspective, it does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition or to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of other states,” said Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser.

However, Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, criticized the omission of Russian aggression, stating that it was “nothing to be proud of.”

President Biden and his advisers highlighted the achievements of the new declaration, including new language on global debt, efforts to revamp institutions like the World Bank to address the challenges faced by poorer countries, an invitation to the African Union to join the G20, and a push for increased financing to assist vulnerable nations in coping with the costs of addressing climate change. The declaration also underscored the potential of digital technologies to promote global economic inclusion.

During the summit, President Biden and other leaders announced a project to create a rail and shipping corridor linking India to the Middle East and eventually Europe, presenting a promise of new technological and trade routes in a region where deeper economic cooperation was overdue.

The project, while lacking key details such as a timeframe or budget, signaled a much softer stance toward Russia than previous statements by Mr. Biden and other Western leaders, who had been heavily involved in supporting Ukraine over the past two years. Amid a summit marked by deep divisions, Mr. Biden refrained from publicly addressing the war, focusing mainly on his meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Unlike past years, where he held high-stakes meetings with individual allies and competitors, Mr. Biden took a more subdued approach during his time in India, allowing Mr. Modi to take the lead. On Sunday, Mr. Biden is set to travel to Vietnam, where he is expected to celebrate an upgraded relationship with the country, despite concerns about recent authoritarian actions.

In contrast to former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Biden’s approach to diplomacy has centered on one-on-one interactions and private negotiations. During forums like the G20, Mr. Biden has presented his leadership as a more steady alternative to his predecessor’s unpredictable style.

India’s G20 presidency coincides with increasing domestic divisions, as Mr. Modi seeks to reshape the country along Hindu-first lines while harnessing its strengths for global prominence. Despite these tensions, Mr. Modi aims to position India as an ascendant global player.

President Biden largely refrained from emphasizing the democracy-versus-autocracy theme during this summit, and his advisers stressed that the G20 was not in competition with forums like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). They highlighted the importance of achieving consensus in the declaration, even if it was a softer stance.

“The G20 is just a more diverse body with a wider range of views,” said Jon Finer, the president’s deputy national security adviser. “It gives us a chance to interact with and work with and take constructive steps with a wider range of countries, including some we don’t see eye-to-eye with on every issue.

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