India’s Presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) comes at a historic point in global geopolitics. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has brought war to the doors of Europe by invading Ukraine, which has now spread as a proxy conflict into Africa.
By not inviting Ukraine to the G20 summit, India seems to continue its support of its old ally, Russia. This is an invitation Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky would have much desired. However, this does not signify a lack of India’s support for Ukraine’s position.
India’s “non-invitation” to Ukraine is seen as its “exclusion” by Western media. Ukraine has no natural right to be invited to the G20 meetings, as it is not one of the top 20 economies of the world, while Russia is a founding member.
This missing invitation is such that the G20 agenda is not distracted by a charming President Zelensky asking for more weapons and more support for a failing charge which he is most probably unable to win.
As Zelensky’s peace plan has been clearly presented on several platforms so far, including the recently concluded Jeddah summit, the world’s leaders are clearly aware of Ukraine’s demands – those of a “victims’ peace”.
Peace is never a one-sided affair. An invitation to Zelensky will most likely cause an abstention from Russian President Putin, the aggressor. This removes the first and last opportunity for the world’s leaders to meet with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on one platform, face to face. Only such a meeting can open up the possibility of a sustainable peace as the world heads into a complicated winter and the conflict possibly drags into a stalemate.
At the end of 2023, US President Joe Biden heads into the final year of his term and much of 2024 will be spent campaigning. Putin is willing to drag this war into 2024, hoping that his ally, Donald Trump, will return to the presidency in the US.
Republicans in Capitol Hill are already complaining about funds being earmarked for Ukraine, at a point where the US economy needs every dollar it can get. If not resolved shortly, the conflict will enter a stalemate that both Ukraine and the world can ill afford. A stalemate also increases the risk of quick and violent regime changes in Russia and Ukraine, which can be unpredictable, and may threaten global security depending on who seizes power.
What are the other reasons for India excluding Ukraine from the G20?
HOWEVER, INDIA’S strategy for not inviting Ukraine is based on other reasons. India has been fiercely lobbying for the entry of the African Union into the G20. With the coup in Niger and Mali and the general instability in sub-Saharan Africa, this would be of paramount importance for all, especially Italy and other countries of Southern Europe, who have a huge immigration crisis on their hands.
Rather than push ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) into another long-drawn proxy conflict in vulnerable Africa, the inclusion of the African Union into the G20 will engage it in development-based issues.
Indian Foreign Minister Subramaniam Jaishankar underlined in his press briefing that G20 deals with growth and development, not conflict settlement which should take place at the UN Security Council. It is essential that Africa be protected, both from Chinese interference as well as Russian. Any further spread of the Russia-Ukraine contagion to Africa will have disastrous consequences for global security.
Russia has been a strategic ally of India as its primary defense supplier, but battle lines have been clearly drawn with Russia now firmly in China’s camp with the “no limits partnership” declared by Xi and Putin in Beijing in February 2022.
Russia has started to default in its military supplies to India, due to its inability to manage manufacturing, owing to its own needs for the war. As a consequence, India has had to turn toward the US and the West to fulfill the void.
Meanwhile, India has been accused of buying cheap Russian oil to keep its oil prices stable and protect its population from sliding into poverty. Reports estimate that over $20 billion-$30 billion in Indian Rupees remain in Indian banks as proceeds of the sale of Russian oil to India which Russia is unable to use to fund its war, increasing Russian frustration.
India continues to try and decelerate global tensions, while China has attempted to continuously upstage and irritate its neighbor, especially in multilateral forums. Despite these provocations, India seems to be signaling a change of pace in an attempt to remain the eternal peacemaker.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) leaders’ summit virtually, and almost skipped attending the BRICS (the five BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg in person, primarily due to various disagreements with China on important agenda items.
Narendra Modi's diplomatic efforts
HOWEVER, WITH the importance of Africa, Modi has now decided to attend the BRICS summit in Johannesburg from 22-24 August. At that summit, Modi will attend a BRICS-Africa outreach and a BRICS+ dialogue. He is also expected to have bilateral meetings with several African heads of state, who are attending as guests of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the summit’s host.
Ramaphosa has expressed an interest in attending the G20 summit in Delhi. If Modi were to invite him during his visit, African powerhouse, South Africa, will join Nigeria and Egypt as India’s guests, thus creating a very strong African representation.
A Modi-Xi bilateral meeting may also be on the cards at the BRICS summit, especially as India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Beijing’s top diplomat Wang Yi, have been meeting recently on the margins of several multilateral events. This has been followed by ground troops of both countries on the border ceasing aggression and trying to implement “goodwill measures”.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports that the US administration, now seriously concerned with the Ukraine impasse, has reached out to India and China, among others, to seek diplomatic solutions with Russia. A bilateral meeting between Modi and Xi in Johannesburg may be a decisive point where both camps decide to put aside their personal differences for the greater global good.
MODI PLANS to build further consensus by attending the India-ASEAN (Association of South Asian Nations) summit and the East Asian summit in Jakarta between 6-7 September, before the G20 heads of state summit in Delhi on 9-10 September. While India is clear that the Russia-Ukraine conflict cannot hog the limelight, it is providing the platform for a real discussion between all the global powers, including the global south, with the aggressor, Russia.
This will be the first potential opportunity, since Russia’s invasion, that leaders of the West, especially US President Biden, will have to meet face-to-face with Russian President Putin in the presence of Putin’s strongest sponsor and ally, China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping. At some point, to achieve peace, one must confront the aggressor, and this is the first – and possibly last – opportunity to confront Russia and start discussing a sustainable and globally supported peace process.
By declaring that this G20 is about development and growth, India is seeking to ensure that it is all about the protection of the global south and highlights, once again, the importance of Africa in the global agenda. This is broadly in line with India’s theme, “one world-one family-one future”.
While keeping with the agenda, India’s approach allows for some quiet behind-the-scenes discussions to create the basis for a sustainable solution. If world leaders do not take advantage of this opportunity to talk peace with Russia, this conflict will drag on into a long, unresolvable stalemate as have recent conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
The Russian contagion will spread to Africa creating a human and political disaster for Europe and the world. India’s approach is to mitigate all risks, the largest being that President Putin will cancel his visit at the last minute. If that were to happen, it would be a lost opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of lives and may spiral the world into a series of proxy conflicts between democracies and autocracies which were not even dreamed of during the Cold War.
The writer is the president of Glocal Cities. He is a political researcher, consultant, and entrepreneur, and has worked in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for two decades. He has interacted with leaders and decision-makers, and has worked closely with people from all walks of life all over the Middle East.