As the G20 Delhi declaration softened its language on the Ukraine war in comparison to the Bali statement, the Western press termed it a “blow” while the Russian media called the summit an unconditional success.
Until Saturday, consensus on a declaration had seemed unlikely, with some commentators even speculating whether this will be the first G20 without a joint agreement. But as the final text was announced, it immediately came in for sharp criticism for the tone of the paragraphs mentioning the Ukraine conflict.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry expressed discontent, with spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko saying that the omission of Russian aggression was “nothing to be proud of.”
The Russian media, meanwhile, carried reports on Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declaring the summit a “milestone” for not allowing Ukraine to take over the agenda. He said they were able to prevent “the West’s attempt to Ukrainise the summit agenda,” thanking India for “preventing attempts to politicise G20”.
Pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda also the summit an unconditional success. It said the “Ukrainian paragraph” was a subject of consensus but it was not talking only about Ukraine. The Ukrainian crisis was mentioned but only in the context of the need to resolve all conflicts that exist throughout the world in accordance with all the purposes and principles of the UN Charter in their entirety and interconnection, it said.
This was important, the article continued, as the West, when it comes to Ukraine, cannot enter intellectual discussions but only demands an end to Russian aggression. The article also applauded the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for not needing to ask anyone for forgiveness, saying he had done a good job. It mentioned how Biden had “once again publicly disgraced himself” by being unable to correctly pronounce the name of the Saudi Arabia crown prince.
Moscow daily Moskovsky Komsomolets about how the collective West had begun to realise within a year that not everything is so simple, that hegemony is not absolute, and that Western military equipment is largely a product of not only technology, but also PR. It said that Kyiv’s disappointment with the West and the West’s in Kyiv had already begun.
The state-owned daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta that Narendra Modi had made a lot of efforts to ensure a successful presidency and he would have considered any other result offensive. It said the West did not wish to ruin its ties with India, and so agreed to a compromise.
In the run-up to G20, the Kyiv Post republished an piece by a Kyiv-based professor of international relations on September 7. It said that while India’s policies were finely calibrated, “the same ambiguity and inconsistency are seen that characterised Indian diplomatic response to Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1980. The way it responded to the Brezhnev doctrine, it responds today to Putin’s expansion. Not much has changed.”
‘A capitulation to Putin’
Western commentary was in stark contrast.
The New York Times the declaration an “eye opening departure” from the one in Bali last year and that White House officials did not publicly say why the US would sign a joint agreement that “did so little to keep pressure on Russia.”
It also noted how US president Joe Biden spent most of his time at the summit “quietly nurturing” his relationship with Modi, and that he stayed in the background most of his time in India, “content to let Mr Modi take the lead”.
“Mr Modi, for his part, was so intent on showcasing the promise and potential of India to the rest of the world that his government effectively shut down a city of 20 million people for the occasion. Leading up to the event, Mr Modi’s likeness was plastered on thousands of posters throughout New Delhi.”
Another in the paper said that the language referring to Russia’s invasion could best be described as less forceful and less specific – a strong nudge rather than a counterpunch. It called it a “new, lowered standard of international outrage”.
Business Insider that G20 members had agreed to refer to “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the ‘war in Ukraine’ instead of the ‘war against Ukraine’ in a capitulation to Putin, who wasn’t even there,” saying that the statement on war had been watered down at Russia’s request.
Meanwhile, in the UK, an in the Observer, which is a Sunday newspaper owned by Guardian, was headlined, “Modi boosted his image, but the G20 summit looks set to achieve little else”. The piece said that Modi was “adamant that geopolitical issues, meaning Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, should not be allowed to distract attention from the wider G20 agenda”. It wote on how Modi “used the event to advertise what he sees as India’s leadership role as the “voice of the global south” and that he blatantly used the summit to boost his personal image.
The said that the outcome of G20 “obviously reflects India’s rigid determination not to take sides in the war, but it is extraordinary that the majority of countries at the G20 that do oppose Russia’s war of conquest were so prepared to be muzzled by the minority that prefer to look away”.
It said that “the softening of the language is a further signal that as Joe Biden faces an election year, Ukraine is perceptibly slipping down his list of foreign policy priorities as the need grows to nurture alliances to contain China in the Indo-Pacific” and that “it was out of deference to Narendra Modi’s need for a clear diplomatic win that the US did not push the Ukraine issue to deadlock”.
A piece called the final statement “a blow to western countries that have spent the past year attempting to convince developing countries to condemn Moscow and support Ukraine”. According to the article, China’s refusal to repeat last year’s declaration which called it “aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” was critical in pushing India to propose compromise language.
German newspaper said that a final declaration that falls short of what the Bali declaration said is a final declaration that accommodates Putin. It also said that progress can be not only a snail, but also a dwarf.
Meanwhile, French newspaper said that the G20 summit had played down deep divisions over the war in Ukraine but had given Modi a moment in the diplomatic spotlight.
Another French newspaper, , said that Modi had used his clout with Russia to have the text adopted by consensus. It cited an anonymous French diplomatic source as saying that while the text mentions “all states must refrain from threatening or using force,” there was only one state, Russia, that behaved like it.
Australian outlet noted how the empty streets and silence in India’s capital was “downright bizarre.” Speaking to locals, it noted that “So successful has Modi been at marketing the summit, that many believe it has been won through his leadership alone”.
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