France expects 'important' and 'difficult' discussions on Ukraine at G20

Climate discussions have been overshadowed by the ongoing war

Indian officials are working hard to find language on Ukraine that will satisfy all global leaders at the G20. AFP
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French President Emmanuel Macron will be heading to New Delhi this weekend alongside other world leaders for a G20 summit that is set to be dominated by “important” and “difficult” discussions on Ukraine, according to his advisers.

Perhaps in an attempt to inspire leaders to work towards peace, the summit's hosts have organised a pilgrimage for leaders on Sunday to a memorial for renowned Indian leader and non-violence advocate Mahatma Ghandi in Raj Ghat.

But behind the scenes, divisions over the war in Ukraine will be on full display as negotiators work under a deadline to agree on a joint communique called the Leaders’ Declaration.

Global South countries, represented by countries such as China, South Africa and Turkey, are worried about the impact of western sanctions on Russia and have accused the West of double standards when it comes to expecting them to rally behind Ukraine, said the Elysee Palace.

Indian officials are working hard to find language on Ukraine that will satisfy all global leaders while also condemning Russia's invasion in equally harsh terms as the most recent G20 meeting in Bali last year.

India has reportedly so far managed to find common ground between nearly all the summit's participants – except for Russia.

“We are at a point where we have a consensus of 19 and we need to see what Russia's game will be in the end,” said an adviser to the Elysee Palace during a briefing with journalists.

Three options lie before Russia, the adviser said: request to amend the text – which is not yet public – accept it as it is or withdraw from consensus and risk upsetting India, one of its most important trading partners.

“It's very important for [Indian] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi that the G20 remain united,” said the adviser, who commented on condition of anonymity.

“Consensus is still possible, but it really depends on the capacity of the Indian presidency to convince Russia.”

Hardening positions

In Bali, members of the G20, which includes Russia, agreed to a text that said that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”, a phrasing that was hailed at the time as an achievement by Russian officials.

Yet positions have hardened since last November, with Russia withdrawing in July from an agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey that allowed Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea, and intensifying its attacks on the region.

The hardened stance on the war has prevented agreement on even a single communique at the 20 or so ministerial meetings of the G20 during India's presidency this year.

But Paris, which has nurtured strong relations with India, including by inviting Mr Modi as guest of honour to its Bastille Day celebrations this year, remained upbeat about a compromise.

Mr Macron is scheduled to make use of his negotiation skills during meetings with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Brasil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The stakes are higher in New Delhi than during ministerial meetings, which might force Russia to bow to pressure, argued Mr Macron's adviser.

“There was no communique because there was a Russian objection and each time, Russia was supported by China,” said the adviser.

“It's a different matter when Prime Minister Modi has acted, has decided, has made it known to everyone that he wants consensus.

“It's certainly much harder for [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to say no to Prime Minister Modi than it is for a Russian minister to say no to an Indian minister.”

Mr Macron's entourage highlighted that countries from the Global South were frustrated over Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea agreement as it has endangered their access to grain from Ukraine, one of the top producers in the world.

Many countries including Eritrea, Lebanon, Senegal and Libya, import more than half of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

“For them, it's a war in Europe that is mostly its problem, but they are paying too high of a price for it,” said the Elysee source.

“Russian negotiators receive no explicit support from any delegation when they seek to introduce doubt about responsibilities.”

Yet negotiations may be complicated by the absence from the summit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. If confirmed, this would be a first.

Another notable absence will be Mr Putin, who also chose to skip the Bali meeting.

Unlike Indonesia, India has refused to invite Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to attend the New Delhi summit by video link.

Paris said that India explained this refusal by saying that it had also rejected similar requests by Mr Putin and Mr Xi.

“Let's say that for them, the presence of Mr Zelenskyy was a complicated matter,” said the adviser, hinting at “sensitivities”.

Despite such complications, France views the relevance of the G20 as heightened by India's lead role, which is expected to bolster Mr Modi's international standing ahead of an election next year.

India's lead role

“It's really a very important G20 meeting,” said the adviser.

The most populated country in the world, India is one of the “few important Global South partners” that can unite the international community on important topics such as climate change and Ukraine.

In addition to the G20's permanent members, representatives of other countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, the UAE, Spain, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman and Singapore, are expected in New Delhi.

Representatives of international institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are also scheduled to attend.

Yet discussions on the war in Ukraine have overshadowed another pressing issue that many had hoped to push forward: climate change.

“We are a few weeks away from Cop28 in Dubai, and the latest news is not very encouraging,” said the Elysee source.

“We have a lot of difficulty in maintaining consensus, for example on coal and fossil fuels.”

Climate change, which will be addressed during a session “One Earth”, is expected to be a topic as divisive as Ukraine.

Western countries want others to follow their lead in transitioning to renewable energy.

But India shows no sign of decreasing its use of coal and Saudi Arabia continues to lobby for fossil fuel consumption, a direct cause of climate change, said the adviser.

Mr Macron is expected to tell Saudi leaders that he wants to increase green hydrogen partnerships between the two countries, a topic that they already discussed in Paris in June.

“But all of this will not be without conditions,” warned his adviser. “We cannot compromise on our climate objectives for bilateral reasons.”

Leaders have so far managed to agree on one topic: the integration of the African Union to the G20 as an equal to the EU.

Paris hailed the decision, saying that it was long overdue.

“We need Africa to discuss big questions on climate and biodiversity,” said the adviser.

“You can add other topics like critical raw materials, development, peace and international security. It is legitimate and important that the African Union be represented in the G20.”

After New Delhi, Mr Macron will travel to Bangladesh at the invitation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Updated: September 07, 2023, 4:39 PM