The Ukraine War and New Delhi’s G20 Challenge


India, which is keen to have President Putin attend the summit, will find it difficult to accommodate Ukraine’s request for an opportunity to address the G20. The success of India’s presidency will depend on its ability to carry the opposing sides to produce a consensus New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration

The visit to New Delhi this week by the Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova came at a time when her country faces an indefinitely stalemated war against Russia.

Ukraine believes it has to change military realities on the ground, which will persuade the Western alliance led by the United States to continue bankrolling its war effort — and ensure that it avoids defeat or is not forced to accept an unfavourable compromise on territory.

Hearing out Kyiv in New Delhi

Dzhaparova, the first Ukrainian official to visit India after the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022, had a two-fold mission in New Delhi.

The first was to invite New Delhi to “restart” ties with Kyiv for a greater “balance” in its position on the war which, Dzhaparova conveyed politely, was pro-Russia from Ukraine’s point of view. The Minister pointed to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s three visits to Moscow, and asked him to visit Kyiv to establish a“special security mechanism” between the two countries.

Amid the chill over India’s position on the Russian invasion — despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to President Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not an era of war”, India has refused to condemn Moscow’s actions — remarks by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba in December that India was able to buy cheap Russian oil because Ukrainians were suffering and dying, did not go down well in New Delhi.

Dzhaparova’s public engagements at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), and at another think tank were well received.

Her tone — not hectoring, complaining, or pleading, but matter of fact — did not ruffle any feathers. In media interactions, the journalist turned politician’s confident messaging in what is from the Ukrainian point of view a pro-Russia environment, was impressive.

But while New Delhi gave Dzhaparova enough “air space” to put forth her point of view, the official reception was strictly by protocol. She met Minister of State Meenakshi Lekhi and handed over a letter for Prime Minister Modi from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian leader wants a phone conversation with Modi. They have spoken on the phone on two occasions so far — once days after the Russian invasion began, and then in December 2022. There have been no other senior-level engagements from the Indian side.

“Delhi’s reception was just correct, nothing excessive. Giving Dzhaparova the space for public engagements may have relieved Delhi of some of the pressure to do more,” Rajiv Bhatia, a Senior Fellow at the foreign policy think tank Gateway House and a former Indian ambassador, said.

New Delhi’s G20 challenge

During her speech at the ICWA on April 12, Dzhaparova asserted that G20 discussions about the world economy were “not possible without the discussion about the repercussions of the war of Russia against Ukraine”. This is correct — but whether India will seriously consider her suggestion that it should “take leadership” in involving Ukraine in the “agenda” of G20 summits and meetings, is another matter.

Dzhaparova’s second mission was to make a pitch for Zelenskyy to address the G20 summit. Indeed, the pressure on India to invite the Ukrainian President is enormous — and it’s not just from Ukraine.

However, those familiar with G20 workings say New Delhi is determined to get President Putin to attend the summit, and would hardly want to jeopardise that with an invitation to Zelenskyy. New Delhi would be mindful that Putin did not attend the G20’s Bali Summit last year where Zelenskyy made a video address and presented his 10-point “peace plan”, and sent Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov instead.

The success of India’s G20 presidency depends on how well it can carry the opposite sides in Russia’s war against Ukraine to produce a consensus document that can be adopted as the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration.

The task is all the more complicated as Russia’s ally China is no friend of either India or the US. New Delhi and Beijing have just been in a war of words over Beijing’s “renaming” places in Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls “South Tibet”. The difficulties in bringing everyone together on the same page were evident during the meetings of G20 Finance Ministers and Foreign Ministers, both of which could only produce a “Chair’s summary”, not a communique.

In Bali, a consensus document was arrived at only after strenuous efforts by President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, but it had to mention the divisions over Russia, and paragraphs noting the dissensions. For this year’s summit, officials may be working “on multiple options”, Ambassador Bhatia said — including the possibility of having two separate communiques, one containing the core agenda of the G20 on which there would be unanimity, and another on the war in Ukraine.

Geopolitical churn

Ukraine is anxious not to lose the support of the West, without which it cannot fight Russia. But if the Ukrainian army cannot notch up successes on the battlefield, voices in the US against continued material support to Ukraine will find increasingly greater resonance.

Already, the far right Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican candidate for the White House in next year’s election, has stirred the pot with remarks that Ukraine was “not a vital national interest” for the US, and that the Biden administration’s “virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes’, without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges”.

The transatlantic alliance is coming under other pressures too.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement, after a visit to China and a long one-on-one with President Xi Jinping, that Taiwan was not an issue for Europe, that the continent must exercise “strategic autonomy” and not be led by America into adopting its problems with China, have sent seismic shocks through Europe. Though Macron has also been forced to tone down these remarks, the question now is whether the Western alliance against Russia can take the strain of a long haul.

As New Delhi plays wait and watch on a tightrope, with fingers crossed for a consensus at the G20 summit, it is now preparing for a visit by another dignitary this month after bidding goodbye to the Ukrainian — the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who is also the Minister for Industry and Trade. Manturov will attend a meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation, which is co-chaired by him and India’s Minister for External Affairs.

Source: Indian Express