In an effort to resolve their disagreements about how to deal with Russia following its year-old invasion of Ukraine, the heads of finance of the world’s leading economies met on Friday as the West tightened sanctions on Moscow.
At the two-day Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Bengaluru, India, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen charged Russian officials with “complicity” in war crimes.
However, summit host India avoided mentioning the year-long conflict in opening remarks and claimed the global economy faced a variety of other issues, underscoring the division with those countries who have not supported attempts to isolate the Russian economy.
“I would urge that your discussions should focus on the most vulnerable citizens of the world,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, adding that stability, confidence and growth had to be brought back to the world economy.
Modi cited the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, rising debt levels, disruptions to supply chains and threats to food and energy security as key concerns for the talks.
India does not want the bloc to discuss sanctions on Russia and is also pressing to avoid using the word “war” in any G20 communique to describe the conflict, G20 officials told Reuters.
But French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said there was no way the grouping could step back from a joint statement agreed at a G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia last November, which noted that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”.
“Either we have the same language or we do not sign on the final communique,” Le Maire told reporters.
Such stand-offs have become increasingly common in the G20, a forum created over 20 years ago in response to past economic crises but which has been recently hobbled by differences between Western nations and others including China and Russia.
Speaking on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, Yellen urged G20 economies to “redouble their efforts to support Ukraine and restrict Russia’s capacity to wage war”.
“I urge the Russian officials here at the G20 to understand that their continued work for the Kremlin makes them complicit in Putin’s atrocities,” Yellen told reporters.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina did not attend the G20 meeting in India, and Moscow was represented by deputies. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”.
Leaders of the wealthy G7 democracies are due to announce new sanctions against those aiding Russia’s war effort after a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later on Friday.
Ahead of that, Washington released details of new measures it was taking that not only targeted Russia but also “third-country actors” across Europe, Asia and the Middle East that are supporting Russia’s war effort.
“We will sanction additional actors tied to Russia’s defence and technology industry, including those responsible for backfilling Russian stocks of sanctioned items or enabling Russian sanctions evasion,” it said.
Britain also issued more sanctions against Russia, including export bans on every item it has used on the battlefield and import bans of iron and steel goods.
The G20 bloc includes the G7 countries, as well as Russia, China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, among others.
British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt told reporters that focusing G20 discussions on Ukraine did not mean neglecting other issues.
“In the end, unless we resolve the global security threats, there can be no progress on these other areas,” he said.
Both China and India have seen trade with Russia surge in the wake of sanctions, with New Delhi vastly increasing its purchases of cheaper Russian oil.
The gathering takes place in the midst of indications that the outlook for the world has improved since the last G20 summit in October, when some economies were on the verge of recession due to rising energy and food prices brought on by the conflict.
With pressure mounting on China, the largest bilateral creditor in the world, and other countries to take a significant haircut in loans, the G20 gathering is also anticipated to feature discussions on debt relief for struggling nations.
China’s finance minister, Liu Kun, repeated Beijing’s view in a video presentation to the gathering that multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, should take haircuts with bilateral creditors as part of the debt relief process.