The G20 summit in India has ended without the usual “family photo”, as some members questioned the watered-down language used in the joint declaration issued by leaders in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Most of the leaders departed from Delhi earlier in the day, having paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at his memorial on the banks of the Yamuna River. The absence of the customary group photograph – intended to signify unity between the world’s largest economies – exemplified the fact that deep divisions still remain over the Ukraine war.
The leaders’ declaration, which was formally adopted on Sunday, bemoans the “human suffering” caused by the Ukraine conflict, but contains no direct mention or condemnation of Russia having started the war, and speaks only in general terms about the need to respect the “territorial integrity” of other nations. Kyiv said the declaration was “nothing to be proud of”.
Earlier drafts of the declaration are reported to have featured stronger language in relation to Russia, but a senior European Union official who was part of the negotiations said that it would have spelt the end of the G20 as an organisation if the leaders had not agreed to the watered-down version.
“Ukraine was the most contentious issue. Extremely different positions were on the table to find the consensus, but it was India’s presidency and we believe in consensus, so we had to accept that,” the official said.
“If the EU had written it, it would have been quite different and quite strong.”
Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine had shaken the foundations of the G20.
“Today, as the world faces compounding crises, collaboration at the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation is becoming increasingly important. Russia’s aggression on Ukraine is shaking the very foundation of cooperation at the G20 ... [and] it is causing an enormous impact to the world economy,” he said.
Some of the leaders present, including Rishi Sunak, have praised the wording of the declaration while going much further themselves in condemning Russia. The British prime minister insisted that the statement included “very strong language about Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine”, adding: “As you can see from this summit, Russia is completely isolated.”
French president Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that “a vast majority of G20 members condemned Russia’s war and aggression”, even if this was not explicitly stated in the declaration. “The G20 confirms the isolation of Russia,” he said. “And the entire G20 also commits to just and lasting peace in Ukraine ... [as well as] a reminder of our support for territorial integrity.”
That is not how the summit will be remembered by Russia, however: the country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, boasted to journalists of a diplomatic victory for Vladimir Putin.
“The declaration is not a condemnation of Russia. It does not even mention Russia. I express gratitude to our Indian partners for not politicising the G20,” he told a press conference, adding that Western allies of Ukraine had failed to “Ukrainianise” the agenda of the summit.
Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst at the US-based Rand Corporation, said that the summit had been “a big win for Moscow”. “New Delhi took the lowest common denominator approach of not even mentioning Russia as the aggressor,” he said.
At the same time, he described the adoption of the New Delhi declaration as a “truly remarkable feat, considering the deepening divisions over Ukraine”.
Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told The Independent: “The only way there was going to be a declaration was if there was no denunciation of Russia. That was Moscow’s red line.
“So it may be a watered-down document, but that was necessary for a consensus. The US and its Western allies were likely appeased by the inclusion of language referring to the damaging economic consequences of the war and the need to abide by UN principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
With the declaration having been published on Saturday, a day earlier than expected, arguably the main event of Sunday’s agenda was the group visit to the Gandhi memorial at Raj Ghat.
Some leaders, including Mr Sunak, the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, walked barefoot at the memorial in a customary show of respect. Many others, including Joe Biden and EU president Ursula von der Leyen, wore slippers that were offered to the visitors as they walked on wet ground after a morning of heavy rain.
Mr Biden, who left for Hanoi before the last G20 session, said on Twitter/X that the summit had proved that “the G20 can still drive solutions to our most pressing issues”.
He said it had happened as the global economy was suffering from the overlapping shocks of the climate crisis, fragility, and conflict.
Mr Modi concluded the summit on Sunday after chairing the third and final session, which was dubbed “One Future”, and handed the G20 gavel to Brazil, India’s successor in the revolving presidency.
Mr Modi nonetheless noted that there are still more than two months to go before India’s presidency ends in November, and proposed hosting a final, virtual G20 summit that month to check on the progress made on the resolutions and proposals offered by world leaders this weekend.
Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said his country was “not interested in a divided G20” and called on members not to let geopolitical issues hijack discussions under its presidency. And he said that Brazil would need the support of all countries in the same way that India has been supported during the past year.