Illustration: Craig Stephens
Kalinga Seneviratne
Kalinga Seneviratne

G20: Did the US just drop Ukraine for India, to counter Brics threat?

  • Ukraine’s request to address the G20 was refused amid speculation the US had dropped the cause in favour of a ‘ferocious’ courtship of India
  • The US sees India as a trusted ally and may be counting on it to prevent a rising Brics bloc from challenging the West
In a rare demonstration of consensus, China, Russia and the US have praised the G20 Delhi declaration in similar tones. But the bigger question is whether the West has decided to throw their support for the Ukraine cause under the bus, alarmed at the rise of an alternative power bloc after the Brics summit in South Africa last month.
A year ago, the Group of 20’s summit in Jakarta was hijacked by Western agenda when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed leaders by video. This year, India would have none of it – it refused a request for Zelensky to address the New Delhi gathering and Western leaders did not appear to have pushed very hard for it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who led his country’s delegation, praised India for the summit’s success in “awakening” the countries of the Global South and their resistance against attempts to “Ukrainise” the G20 agenda.

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed disappointment at the so-called consensus document. “If it was just up to me, the leaders’ declaration would have been much stronger, particularly on Ukraine,” he told a press briefing in New Delhi.

Yet US President Joe Biden seemed happy to take an uncharacteristic back seat to Modi at the gathering, and on the eve of the summit, both leaders held a late-night meeting that reaffirmed the “close and enduring partnership” between their countries. To the surprise of many, the G20 declaration was swiftly adopted the next day, with Modi saying it was a “consensus” document.
Modi had been working the ground pre-summit. In an interview, he touted India’s “human-centric model of development” as a “road map for the future” and pushed for Africa to become a major G20 stakeholder. His first act as chair of the summit was to invite the head of the African Union to take his seat as a new member of the grouping – a decision Modi said had also been adopted by consensus.
A G20 summit ad at a bus shelter in New Delhi on September 4. Photo: AP
In a post-summit interview, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Grace Naledi Pandor praised India for bringing the G20 back to the “core focus” of development, particularly “economic growth for emerging and developing countries”, after two years of distractions and divisions over the Ukraine war. She also said that India, Brazil and South Africa were the Sherpas in bringing together the consensus declaration.
This raises the question of why the United States and the European Union had taken an uncharacteristic back seat at the G20 summit – and whether they have ditched Ukraine’s cause to show support for India, the middle power trusted to stand in the way of any plan by China and Russia to lead Brics to become a credible challenge to Western powers.

To “counterbalance China”, the US is “courting India ferociously”, the same way the Nixon administration courted China in the 1970s to thwart a possible alliance between the Communist country and the Soviet Union, said commentator Kishore Mahbubani, an author and former Singapore diplomat, in a pre-summit interview.

He may well have observed post-summit that this was why Western powers allowed India to take centre stage and lead a Global South push at the G20 meeting – better there than at Brics or the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, both of which India is a member of.


US, Russia praise G20 summit declaration as India meeting closes without Putin and China’s Xi

US, Russia praise G20 summit declaration as India meeting closes without Putin and China’s Xi
Interestingly, on the sidelines of the G20 summit – just before Biden left for Vietnam – a new rail project was announced that is very similar in its vision to the China-led Belt and Road Initiative. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor – a railway connecting ports and stretching across West Asia – includes as its partners India, the US, European Union, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The latter two are set to become full members of Brics next January.

Whoever funds and builds the project, I’m sure Western media will not dub it a “debt trap” for the emerging economies through which the railway will be built. Even before it has taken off, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hailed it as an “unprecedented international project” that will “change the face of the Middle East”.

No such praise has been given by the West to China for the Belt and Road project that is doing the same across the Asian continent and Eurasia.


China’s Belt and Road, 10 years on

China’s Belt and Road, 10 years on

The US is seeking a leadership role in its engagement with the Global South and in this paradigm shift, Biden envisages Modi as a key ally, said M.K. Bhadrakumar, who served in the Indian diplomatic service for three decades, in a commentary for RT News.

“Make no mistake, the US is taking an audacious course correction in its approach to the Global South, especially Africa, anchored in the geopolitical reality of the mounting challenge that China and Russia are posing by striving to monopolise that geopolitical space,” he wrote.

Africa and the Middle East are the new battlegrounds in the global geopolitical war and America’s adversaries have been making major inroads in both, helped by deep resentments in the Global South about how US sanctions against Russia have affected them. Ditching Ukraine may seem a small price to pay for the US, but would the Europeans feel the same? Only time will tell.

Dr Kalinga Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan-born journalist, media analyst and international communications expert currently based in Sydney