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Thursday, March 23, 2023
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Modi calls for unity at G20 dominated by Ukraine

India had wanted its G20 presidency this year to focus on issues such as alleviating poverty and climate finance, but the Ukraine war has so far crowded out other agenda items.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Thursday for the G20 to bridge differences over Ukraine, telling the opening of a meeting in New Delhi that global governance has “failed”.

India had wanted its G20 presidency this year to focus on issues such as alleviating poverty and climate finance, but the Ukraine war has so far crowded out other agenda items.

The gathering will see US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the same room for the first time since July, but the two men are unlikely to hold talks.

“The experience of the last few years -– financial crisis, climate change, pandemic, terrorism and wars — clearly shows that global governance has failed,” Modi said in a recorded statement opening the meeting of G20 foreign ministers.

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“We are meeting at a time of deep global divisions… We all have our positions and our perspectives on how these tensions (can) be resolved. However, as the leading economies of the world, we also have a responsibility for those who are not in this room,” Modi said.

Western delegates fear China is considering supplying arms to its Russian ally and they will use the foreign ministers’ summit to discourage Beijing from intervening in the conflict.

India’s longstanding security ties with Russia have put the host of Thursday’s meeting in an awkward diplomatic position after refusing to condemn the invasion over the past year.

But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was confident India would use the meeting to “make Russia understand that this war has to finish”.

“Certainly the success of the meeting today will be measured in respect to what we will be able to do on that,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Borrell will meet on the sidelines of the New Delhi summit with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, where he will seek assurances that Beijing will not lend support to Russia’s war effort.

“Until now, the answer has been clearly stated by China, ‘it hasn’t happened and it won’t happen,’ but we have to remain vigilant,” said a senior EU official with knowledge of the matter.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua last week quoted top diplomat Wang Yi as saying Beijing was willing to “strengthen strategic coordination” with Russia after meeting Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

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– ‘Zero evidence’ –

Blinken said he had no plans to meet with either the Russian or Chinese foreign ministers at the G20 summit.

The last time Blinken and Lavrov were in the same room, at a G20 meeting in Bali last July, the latter stormed out according to Western officials.

“If Russia — President Putin — were genuinely prepared to engage in meaningful diplomacy necessary to end the aggression, of course we’d be the first to work to engage, but there’s zero evidence of that,” Blinken said.

Blinken had a fiery encounter with Wang last month in Germany after the United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over its east coast on February 4.

Lavrov intends to use his G20 attendance to lambast Western countries over the conflict, according to a Russian foreign ministry statement.

“The destructive policy of the US and its allies has already put the world on the brink of a disaster,” the ministry said Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called on the G20 to “respond clearly” to the war as it had during its Bali meeting last year.

The conflict was a “dirty war, waged in violation of all the laws of war and of simple humanity”, she said in her address to the meeting.

Hosting the G20 puts India in a tricky position, because while it shares Western concerns about China, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and has ramped up Russian oil imports.

A meeting of G20 finance ministers in Bengaluru last week failed to agree on a common statement after Russia and China sought to water down language on the war.

While India has not condemned the Ukraine invasion, Modi told Putin last year this was “not a time for war” in comments seen as a rebuke to Moscow.