Foreign ministers from the world’s major economies have gathered in New Delhi, setting the stage for a major test in Indian diplomacy as it tries to deal with tensions over Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine .
At the second high-level ministerial meeting chaired by India’s Group of 20 (G20) this year, the country’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will meet with his American, Chinese and Russian counterparts on Thursday, hoping find enough common ground to make a joint statement. at the end of the top.
The world’s largest democracy, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, is keen to position itself as a leader of emerging and developing countries – often referred to as the South – at a time when food and energy prices are soaring due to the war hammers consumers already struggling with rising costs and inflation.
Those sentiments took center stage at a press conference Wednesday, when India’s Foreign Minister Vinay Kwatra told reporters that foreign ministers should consider the impact, “especially economic”, of the conflict worldwide.
But analysts say India’s attempt to push its agenda is hampered by ongoing divisions over the war.
Those disagreements played out last month in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, when G20 finance leaders failed to agree on a statement after their meeting. Both Russia and China refused to sign the joint statement criticizing the invasion of Moscow. That left India to issue a “chairman’s summary and outcome document” summarizing the two days of talks and acknowledging the differences.
Analysts say New Delhi deftly balanced its ties with Russia and the West during the war, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerging as a leader courted by all sides.
But as the war enters its second year and tensions continue to mount, pressure on countries, including India, could mount to take a firmer stance against Russia, testing Modi’s statesmanship.
Arguably India’s most celebrated event of the year, the G20 summit has been much promoted domestically, with sprawling billboards featuring Modi’s face plastered across the country. Roads have been cleaned and buildings freshly painted in anticipation of the dignitaries’ visit.
It is set in the “mother of democracies” led by Modi and his political allies were eager to highlight his international credentials and portray him as a key player in the global order.
Last year’s G20 leadership summit in Bali, Indonesia, issued a joint statement that echoed what Modi had said to Russian President Vladimir Putin weeks earlier on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan.
“Today’s era should not be a war,” it said, prompting media and officials in India to claim that India had played a vital role in bridging differences between isolated Russia and the United States and its allies.
India, analysts say, prides itself on its ability to balance relations. The country, like China, has refused to condemn Moscow’s brutal attack on Ukraine in several United Nations resolutions. Rather than sever economic ties with the Kremlin, India has undermined Western sanctions by buying more Russian oil, coal and fertilizer.
But unlike China, India has grown closer to the West, especially the US, despite its ties to Russia.
New Delhi’s ties to Moscow date back to the Cold War, and the country remains heavily dependent on the Kremlin for military equipment – a vital link given India’s ongoing tensions with China on its shared Himalayan border.
The US and India have taken steps in recent months to strengthen their defense partnership as the two sides try to counter the rise of an increasingly assertive China.
Daniel Markey, senior adviser, South Asia, for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), said that while Indian leaders “want to end this conflict that preserves New Delhi’s relations with both Washington and Moscow and ends the disruption of the global economy,” India had no “specific influence” over Russia or Ukraine that would make a settlement likely.
“I believe other world leaders are equally interested in playing a diplomatic peace role. So when and if Putin wants to come to the table to negotiate, he will have no shortage of diplomats hoping to help,” he said.
As Putin’s aggression continues to plunge the global economy into chaos, India has shown an intent to raise the many concerns facing the South, including climate challenges and food and energy security, Foreign Minister Kwatra said.
“The G20 in particular needs to come together to focus on these priorities,” he said.
While the Modi government seems keen to prioritize domestic challenges, experts say these issues could be sidelined by tensions between the US, Russia and China, which have recently increased amid concerns from Washington that Beijing is considering deadly aid to the Kremlin’s struggling war effort.
Speaking to reporters last week, Ramin Toloui, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, said that while Secretary of State Antony Blinken would highlight his efforts to address food and energy security challenges, he would also “underline the damage that the war in Russia has caused aggression.”
Blinken will “encourage all G20 partners to redouble their calls for a just, peaceful and sustainable end to the war in the Kremlin, in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter,” Toloui said.
At the same time, in a statement on Wednesday, Russia accused the US and the European Union of “terrorism”, saying it would “clearly make Russia’s assessments” of the current food and energy crisis.
“We will draw attention to the destructive barriers that the West is exponentially erecting to block the export of goods critical to the global economy, including energy resources and agricultural products,” Russia said, citing the difficulties faced by New Delhi could face. during the meeting.
India has “worked very hard not to be boxed in on one side or the other,” Markey said. The country could not afford to alienate Russia or the US and Modi does not want the discussion of the war to force difficult decisions or distract from other issues such as green, sustainable economic development,” he added.
But with Washington-Beijing ties plummeting after the US military shot down an allegedly Chinese spy balloon flying over US soil, New Delhi will have to manage difficult negotiations between opposing viewpoints with caution.
China claims the balloon shot down by US forces in February was a civilian research aircraft accidentally blown off course, and the fallout led Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing.
As differences are likely to emerge at Thursday’s ministerial meeting, analysts said India could view even limited progress as a victory.
“Any joint statement would likely be portrayed in the Indian media as a diplomatic achievement,” Markey said. “But its broader meaning would be limited.”