G20 leaders forced to defend declaration after Russia boasts of its ‘correct understanding’ of Ukraine war

Western leaders have been forced to defend a joint G20 declaration that avoided criticising Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, after Moscow’s foreign minister boasted of “a major shift in their position” and said participating nations had come to a “correct understanding” of the war.

Sergei Lavrov said in a statement, after the end of the summit in New Delhi, that the West had failed to “Ukrainise” the G20 communiqué, and that “a correct understanding of what is happening [in Ukraine] among the developing members of the G20 is evident”

His quotes were published by the Russian state news agency Tass. He welcomed the joint declaration as a “milestone” and added that the wording “fully reflects our position”.

The communiqué called for “a comprehensive, just, and durable peace” in Ukraine and called on all states to “uphold the principles of international law including territorial integrity and sovereignty, international humanitarian law, and the multilateral system that safeguards peace and stability”.

France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, speaks at a press conference after attending the G20 summit in New Delhi (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty)

The declaration’s language was significantly toned down from a statement agreed at last year’s G20 summit in Bali, when “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”.

Diplomats said Russia would never have accepted an outright condemnation and that it was still a successful outcome because everyone including Russia committed themselves to not seizing territory by force.

Ukraine dismissed this year’s statement as “disappointing” and “nothing to be proud of”.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 09: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY - MANDATORY CREDIT - 'PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) during the G20 Leaders' Summit 2023 at Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi, India on September 09, 2023. The summit is hosted by India this year with the main theme of 'One Earth, One Family, One Future'. (Photo by Press Information Bureau / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during the G20 summit (Photo: Press Information Bureau/Anadolu via Getty)

Western leaders were forced to defend the language of the declaration. Rishi Sunak said that the communiqué used “very strong language” about the war.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, said that if it were up to just him, the language would have been stronger, adding that “if it were up to other leaders [in the G20], it would have been much weaker”.

He added: “It’s well established that we can’t believe anything that Russian officials or diplomats say full stop. We put forward strong consensus languages on Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine and I’m not surprised that the foreign minister of Russia objects to it.

“That’s his job, but he is and Russia is and [Vladimir] Putin is very much in the wrong in terms of the instability they’re causing in the world… and that’s why we will continue to stand strong against Russian bullying and Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a press conference after the closing session of the G20 summit in New Delhi on September 10, 2023. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, attends a press conference after the closing session of the G20 summit (Photo: Money Sharma /AFP via Getty)

France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, said consensus on the declaration was “reasonably easy”. He added: “I gave my remarks on where there was room to improve.”

He told a press conference after the end of the summit: “The G20 supports territorial integrity in UN charters. That is the opposite of what Russia is doing.

“This G20 confirms once again the isolation of Russia. Today, an overwhelming majority of G20 members condemn the war in Ukraine and its impact.”

Germany praised the resolution, and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it “does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition or to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of other states”.

The declaration also called for “cessation of military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure”.

Mr Lavrov said this included attacks on the Nord Stream 2 and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Russian-occupied Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukraine have been accused of sabotaging the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Both have denied this.