The fifty-two-paragraph long G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration issued at the culmination of the 17th G20 summit in Indonesia on November 16 focussed mainly on the critical economic issues facing the world. The declaration itself noted “…the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues…”. Nevertheless, the summit provided one more opportunity to the West to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. It used the chance to the hilt. In order to provide a justification for castigating Russia the Declaration stated “security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy”. The impact of war on the economic wellbeing of people is undeniable but the West’s objective was as much to focus on the adverse economic impact of the war as in putting President Putin in the dock.
The summit was held immediately after the Ukrainian forces retook Kherson. President Volodymir Zelenskyy visited the city and declared that the Ukraine would not rest until it had cleared its territory of all Russian troops. Certainly, the withdrawal its forces from the city marked a serious reverse for Russia. President Putin did not attend the summit; the Russian delegation was led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. This in itself was indicative of Putin’s desire to avoid embarrassment for the fact is that he would have had no alternative but to remain in the room and hear no other leader—not even the President Xi Jinping of China support his action against. On the contrary he would have only heard invective from a large number of leaders who were present.
While Putin stayed away the G20 allowed Zelenskyy to address the summit as a guest via video conferencing. This was a political act though the G20 is by its own acknowledgement only designed to consider economic issues. Naturally, there is an inextricable linkage between economics and politics but a group meant to focus on economic issues should always try to avoid politically embarrassing of its members howsoever provocative its actions may have been. This is because the cooperation of the major economies is required to create a consensus to address global economic issues. Certainly, Russia’s collaboration in addressing issues such as climate change is needed and it may therefore would have been wiser for the West to avoid the temptation of going after Russia at the G20. Was there therefore really a need to get Zelenskyy to address the G20 even though there can be no justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On his part the Ukrainian leader, obviously enthused by the Kherson takeover by his forces, while pitching for peace let loose his usual and understandable fusillade against Putin. He outlined a ten-point plan which he summed up as meant to ensure “radiation and nuclear security; food security; energy security; release all prisoners and deported persons; implementation of the UN Charter and restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and world order; withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities; restoration of justice; countering ecocide; preventing escalation; and finally--confirmation of the end of war”. This is clearly Zelenskyy’s maximum position. There is no way that Putin can accept them.
The significant point is that the West, despite all the rhetoric and criticism of Putin, is also aware that Ukraine cannot achieve these objectives. The difficulty is that neither side Russia or Ukraine is really ready for a compromise as of now. Nor are the supporters of Ukraine who are continuously supplying them with weapons. President Biden is reportedly in the process of again asking the Congress for funds for sending weapons to Ukraine. The new package includes a request for $ 21.7 billion in ‘military and intelligence’ support. It is not clear if the Congress which has now passed into the Republican party hands, though by a slim margin, will accede fully to Biden’s request. There is no doubt though that the US will send sufficient weapon systems flowing to Ukraine to attempt to keep up the momentum for its army to regain as much Ukrainian territory as possible without having the capacity to target internationally recognised Russian territory.
On their part countries like India are correctly pressing the point that the way to end the Ukraine conflict is through dialogue and diplomacy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call that today’s era is not one of war finds mention in the Bali Declaration. The difficulty is that a path for negotiations opens up only when the parties and their supporters are willing to walk that road. That does not seem so till now. This was also reflected in paragraph 3 of the Declaration which gave primacy to the West’s criticism of Russia through quoting the United Nations General Assembly Resolution demanding Russia’s ‘complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine’. The paragraph also mentioned the condemnation of ‘most members’ of the Ukraine members while noting that ‘There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions’. This is an obvious reference to the views of China and in respect of sanctions of India which has made it clear that it will continue to source its energy needs from Russia.
As winter descends on Europe there are great worries on how will the continent handle its energy situation. This is particularly so in Ukraine where Russia has targeted its power generating infrastructure. Will this tamper high nationalist feelings and bring in a dose of realism? That is difficult to conjecture but with Russia formally amalgamating portions of Ukrainian territory the prospects of a negotiated settlement is becoming more difficult.
As always it is the common people in Europe and beyond who will continue to suffer because of food and energy uncertainties.