G20 summit showed shifting shape of world’s geopolitical landscape

Wording of statement suggests western powers have given up trying to recruit the Global South in support of Ukraine’s war effort

G20 leaders meeting in New Delhi agreed a joint statement on the war in Ukraine that avoided condemning Russia but said all states should refrain from using force to change borders. Russia welcomed the statement but Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the G20 leaders had nothing to be proud of.

“All states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state,” the declaration said.

In Bali last year, the leaders said that most countries deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. This time, they dropped that line but referred to “the human suffering and negative added impacts” of the war in terms of global food and energy security.

The United States and the European Union insisted that the text did not imply any weakening of their support for Ukraine, briefing that compromising on the statement was the price of keeping the G20 relevant. But it suggests that the western powers have given up trying to recruit the Global South in support of Ukraine’s war effort and are looking ahead to the framework for future peace negotiations.


US national security adviser Jake Sullivan noted that the statement said that a just peace must be based on the principles of the United Nations Charter, a key demand of Ukraine’s allies.

The compromise was agreed after midnight on Friday after Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa joined forces with India to put pressure on the western powers to accept it. Indonesia preceded India in the G20 presidency, which has now passed to Brazil and will go to South Africa a year later.

The summit highlighted the shifting shape of the geopolitical landscape with the 55-country African Union invited to join the G20 as a full member. The group, which began as a forum for finance ministers from the G7 to meet their counterparts from emerging economies in the 1990s, started to meet at summit-level in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash.

Alongside G7 members the US, Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Canada and Japan, plus the European Union, the G20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey.

China’s president Xi Jinping stayed away from the summit in New Delhi, sending premier Li Qiang instead, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin was also absent. Western leaders feared that if India’s Narendra Modi failed to achieve consensus, the G20 could lose influence while Brics, which recently announced an expansion of its membership, grew in importance.

In the margins of the summit, India, the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the EU, Germany, France and Italy announced a memorandum of understanding to establish a new rail and sea corridor linking India to the Middle East and the Mediterranean. An eastern corridor will connect India to the Arabian Gulf and a northern corridor will link the Arabian Gulf to Europe. Along the railway route, they envisage laying electrical and digital cables and a pipe for clean hydrogen export.

The announcement did not include any details about how it will be financed although the participants said they will meet within two months to develop an action plan. Some western commentators have hailed the plan as a potential rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in which Beijing has invested more than USD1 trillion over the past decade.

The proposed corridor may instead illustrate the growing confidence of middle powers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE in refusing to take sides between the US and China and taking advantage of their relationship with both superpowers. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in the BRI and will join Brics at the end of this year and both host US military bases on their territory.