The final declaration of New Delhi’s Group of 20 summit carried no mention of Russia in the language about the war in Ukraine — which has dominated discourse in the West since its start a year and a half ago. Wording on the invasion was substantially diluted from last year’s statement in Bali, Indonesia.
Analysts say the language is an indication that the United States prioritized having a consensus document led by India over a more aggressive condemnation of Russia that would have been boycotted by some members.
“The most important shift in the Delhi summit is that developing countries had a much stronger voice than they’ve had in the G-20 ever before,” said Nirupama Subramanian, an Indian foreign policy commentator. “Wealthier countries accepted that they cannot allow the Ukraine war to cause a breakdown of the G-20. This is why they went along with a watering down on the language of the war.”
The greater openness by the United States toward the priorities of the Global South and flexibility on the war language comes as China is gaining influence in the BRICS forum, an expanding global group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa that excludes Washington.
The recent BRICS summit “underscored … the rising importance of the Global South” and the forums that it occupies with China and Russia, said Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund.
“There were deep compromises made in regard to the language in regard to Ukraine, above all, which might have been an anathema in other circumstances but here seemed to be a price that the ‘West’ would pay in order give India a multilateral success, but to also to underscore the importance of the G-20 as a vehicle for North-South relations,” he said.
Lesser added that Washington and Brussels have begun to see foreign policy as less “perfectionist,” with many new stakeholders putting forward their priorities. “I think this tells us what it will mean for multilateral diplomacy in the future.”
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, South Asia practice head at the Eurasia Group, noted that the United States had clearly concluded that “the real damage for American interests would be a failed G-20 summit, because it would be a Chinese win at India’s expense.” Instead, “the Americans threw all their weight behind the Indians. … The optics for the Indians were very good.”
It became clear that Ukraine has “dropped off the priority list” everywhere except for Europe, he added. Meanwhile, “swing states” — Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and India — emerged as a “bridge” between the China-Russia bloc and the Western bloc.
“What is being realized is the perception in the world that the West is so preoccupied with their own issues and that the U.S. needs to do what it can to address that perception,” said an Indian official who took part in the G-20 summit and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
In the weeks running up to the summit, Indian officials had shown concern that the Ukraine war would make a joint declaration out of reach. Ultimately, they surprised onlookers by announcing a consensus — a day early — in a clear diplomatic win for the host country.
While the communiqué states that the G-20 is not the platform to resolve “geopolitical and security issues,” it acknowledged the impact of the “war in Ukraine,” and called for an end to “military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure” and an upholding of “territorial integrity and sovereignty” — language that, by not directly mentioning in Russia, leaves the aggressor open to interpretation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a room of reporters over the weekend that the “Global South managed to prevent the West’s attempts to once again, ‘Ukrainize’ the entire agenda,” according to a translation of his statements. A Ukrainian spokesperson said on Facebook that the declaration was “nothing to be proud of.”
French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that the G-20 was not a forum for diplomacy on the war, but maintained that the document still condemned the war.
Senior U.S. officials also argued that there were no backdowns from commitments to Ukraine.
“I’ve seen some reporting that seems to imply what we think is actually not the message that the G-20 sent on Ukraine,” said Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser, adding that major world economies, including Brazil, India, and South Africa, are “united on the need to uphold international law and for Russia to respect international law.”
Asked on CNN whether he was disappointed that countries couldn’t agree to stronger language, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “No, I think it’s very important that the G-20 spoke as one.”
Still, Biden received some domestic criticism.
But Rajesh Rajagopalan, a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the forum weakened China’s claim of representing the Global South, especially in the announcement of a new economic corridor that rivals China’s Belt and Road Initiative and other development advances pushed through with U.S. help.
However, a question remains, Subramanian said. If the United States saw an Indian partnership against China as more important than “teaching Russia a lesson,” she said, “is there going to be a real shift on the war on the ground as well?”
Matt Viser contributed to this report.