India urges focus on 'most vulnerable' at G20 meeting, avoids mention of war

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed G20 finance ministers and central bank heads by video link as their two-day gathering began on Friday in Bengaluru, India. File picture: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed G20 finance ministers and central bank heads by video link as their two-day gathering began on Friday in Bengaluru, India. File picture: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

Published Feb 24, 2023


BENGALURU - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged global financial leaders to focus on the world's "most vulnerable citizens" as he inaugurated a G20 meeting on Friday, the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Indian leader made direct no mention of the war in his address to G20 finance ministers and central bank governors at the Nandi Hills resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru, although the conflict and its effect on the world are likely to dominate the two-day meeting.

Modi said the Covid-19 pandemic and "rising geopolitical tensions in different parts of the world" had led to unsustainable debt levels in several countries, disruptions to global supply chains and threats to food and energy security.

"I would urge that your discussions should focus on the most vulnerable citizens of the world," he said, adding that stability, confidence and growth had to be brought back to the world economy.

Participants at the meeting, however, are likely to focus on the war in Ukraine. The G20 bloc includes the wealthy G7 democracies, as well as Russia, China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Reuters that G20 financial leaders must condemn Russia's aggression against Ukraine and that Europe was working on new sanctions against Moscow.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said the pressure on Russia must be kept high to "completely isolate" Russia's economy.

The G7 ministers called on Thursday for more financial support for Ukraine and vowed to maintain tough sanctions on Russia.

G7 chair Japan's finance minister, Sunichi Suzuki, told reporters that the group would closely monitor the effectiveness of sanctions and "take further actions as needed".

United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference as G20 finance leaders meet in Bengaluru, India, February 23, 2023. Picture: Samuel Rajkumar/REUTERS

In remarks her to the opening session of the gathering, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called on G20 counterparts to "redouble their efforts to support Ukraine and restrict Russia's capacity to wage war".

Yellan accused Russian officials attending a G20 finance leaders meeting on Friday of being "complicit" in atrocities in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and for the damage the war has caused to the global economy.

She said Russian President Vladimir Putin's "weaponisation" of food and energy has hurt not only Ukraine, but the global economy and especially developing countries.

"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 said. "They bear responsibility for the lives and livelihoods being taken in Ukraine and the harm caused globally."

Russia was represented in the room by senior economic officials, according to a US Treasury official. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina were not in attendance.

Yellen added that ending the war was a "moral imperative" for the global economy and repeated that United States "will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes."

India, which holds the current G20 presidency, does not want the bloc to discuss additional sanctions on Russia and is also pressing to avoid using the word "war" in G20 communique language to describe the conflict, G20 officials told Reuters.

New Delhi has maintained a neutral stance on the conflict, vastly increasing its purchases of cheaper Russian oil. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation".

Yellen said the communique was still under discussion and she hoped to see a strong condemnation of Russia's invasion and the damage it has caused Ukraine and the global economy.

Global economy

The meeting comes amid signs that the global outlook has improved from the last G20 summit, when a number of economies were teetering on the brink of recession amid energy and food price spikes caused by the war.

Yellen highlighted the improvement, saying the global economy "is in a better place today than many predicted just a few months ago".

The International Monetary Fund has forecast global GDP growth for 2023 at 2.9%, up from a 2.7% forecast in October, but still well below the 3.4% achieved in 2022.

Yellen attributed the improvement in part to co-operation among G20 central banks and governments over the past year in taking strong action to quell inflation, even at the expense of growth.

Inflation in the United States and other countries has eased alongside lower energy prices, but Yellen added that such efforts needed to continue and more work was needed to mitigate spillovers from the war, such as easing food shortages and holding down energy prices and Russian revenues.

China's finance minister Liu Kun said all the G20 nations should conduct fair, objective and in-depth analysis of the causes of global debt issues and resolve the problem in a comprehensive, systematic and effective manner, a finance ministry statement said on Friday.

Liu said international financial institutions and commercial creditors should follow the principle of "joint action, fair burden" in the debt settlements, according to the statement.