G20: East-West showdown over Russia's war in Ukraine looms at India meeting
Stark divisions over Russia's war in Ukraine and concerns about China's motives are set to dominate what looks set to be a highly contentious meeting of G20 foreign ministers in India.
The rift between the US and its allies on one side, and Russia and China on the other, appears likely to widen further as top diplomats from the world's largest industrialised and developing nations gather in New Delhi.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and their Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will all be present and battling for support from non-aligned members of the group.
Although they will all be in the same room together, Blinken has said he has not plans to meet either individually. Washington's chief diplomat has spent two days in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan warning Central Asia about the threat posed by Russia.
A Chinese peace plan for Ukraine -- praised by Russia but greeted sceptically in the West -- has done little to improve matters. US officials have repeatedly accused China of considering sending weapons to Russia.
The allegations have aggravated the poor relations between the world's two largest economies over Taiwan, human rights, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. Tensions heightened further in February when the US shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon in American airspace, prompting Blinken to postpone a trip to Beijing.
On Wednesday Blinken again criticised China's peace plan for Ukraine.
“If China was genuinely serious about this ... it would have been spending all of the last year working in support of the restoration of Ukraine’s full sovereignty,” he told reporters in Tashkent. “And of course, it’s been doing the opposite."
“China can’t have it both ways,” Blinken said. “It can’t be putting itself out as a force for peace in public, while in one way or another, it continues to fuel the flames of this fire that Vladimir Putin started.”
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In the meantime, Moscow has been unrelenting in pushing its view that the West, led by the US, is trying to destroy Russia. Ahead of the meeting, the Russian foreign ministry accused Washington and its allies of putting the world on the brink of disaster.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the world was already aware of the Western position "with regards to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”, and there were any important things to discuss.
However, India has the unenviable task of trying to reconcile clearly irreconcilable differences.
It will likely adopt a neutral stance on Ukraine in order to focus on issues of importance to developing nations like rising inflation, debt stress, health, climate change and food and energy security.
So far, India has refrained from directly criticising Russia, its major Cold War-era ally, while increasing imports of Russian oil, even as it has increasingly faced pressure to take a firm stand on Moscow.
India has also abstained from voting in UN resolutions that condemn the Ukraine invasion.
“India’s messaging has been clear and consistent: It’s not about to criticise Russia, but it strongly opposes the war and supports all efforts to bring it to an end,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute.
“The West would prefer it go further, and Russia would prefer it say less, but each side has accepted New Delhi’s position, and India’s relations with both sides have remained strong throughout the war,” he said.