The G20 is sparring over the Ukraine war as the West steps up sanctions

  • Group of Seven to continue to deepen sanctions, add new sanctions
  • India wants to avoid mentioning the word “war”
  • Rising debt is also a focus of the talks

BENGALURU (Reuters) – Finance leaders in the world’s largest economy sought on Friday to narrow differences over how to deal with Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine a year ago, as the West tightened its sanctions against Moscow.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen accused Russian officials at the two-day G20 meeting in the Indian city of Bengaluru of being “complicit” in the war’s atrocities.

But underlining a split with those countries that have not joined efforts to isolate the Russian economy, meeting host India avoided mentioning the year-old war in opening remarks and said the global economy faced a host of other challenges.

“I would urge that your discussions focus on the most vulnerable citizens of the world,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, adding that stability, confidence and growth must be restored to the global economy.

Modi cited the repercussions of the COVID pandemic, rising debt levels, disruption to supply chains, and threats to food and energy security as major concerns.

G20 officials told Reuters that India did not want the bloc to discuss sanctions on Russia and was also pushing to avoid using the word “war” in any statement.

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But French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said it was impossible for the group to retract a joint statement agreed at the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November, which noted that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”

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“Either we have the same language, or we don’t sign the final statement,” Le Maire told reporters.

Such confrontations are becoming increasingly common in the G-20, a forum created more than 20 years ago in response to past economic crises but more recently bogged down by disagreements between Western nations and others including China and Russia.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, Yellen urged the G20 economies to redouble their efforts to support Ukraine and constrain Russia’s ability to wage war.

“I urge Russian officials here at the G20 to understand that their continued work with the Kremlin makes them complicit in Putin’s atrocities,” Yellen said in remarks to the meeting.

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland personally rebuked the Russians, according to a Western official familiar with her remarks.

Speaking in Russian, she said, “You are abrachik, you are economists – you are not soldiers. But, despite this, you also bear personal responsibility for this criminal war. We know who you are, and we will not forget,” said Vreeland, who is of Ukrainian descent.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina did not attend, while Moscow was represented by deputies. Russia describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation”.

G7 deepens Russia’s sanctions

Leaders of the wealthy Group of Seven democracies issued a statement pledging to continue to deepen sanctions against those aiding Russia’s war effort after a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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“We will maintain, fully implement and expand the economic measures that we have already imposed,” said the statement issued by the current head of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations Japan, indicating that it will work out how to deny Russia revenue from diamond exports.

Separately, Washington released details of new measures it was taking targeting not only Russia but also “other state actors” across Europe, Asia and the Middle East that support Russia’s war effort.

She added, “We will sanction additional actors associated with Russia’s defense industry and technology, including those responsible for backfilling Russian stockpiles of sanctioned materials or enabling Russia to evade sanctions.”

Britain also issued more sanctions against Russia, including an export ban on every item it used on the battlefield and a ban on imports of iron and steel products.

But diplomatic sources told Reuters that EU countries are still struggling to overcome differences over a new set of EU sanctions against Russia. They made a new offer on Friday after talks ended in failure late Thursday.

The G20 includes the G7 countries, plus Russia, China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, among others.

British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt told reporters that focusing the G20 discussions on Ukraine did not mean neglecting other issues.

“Ultimately, unless we solve global security threats, there will be no progress in these other areas,” he said.

Both China and India have seen a boom in trade with Russia in the wake of the sanctions, with New Delhi dramatically increasing its purchases of cheaper Russian oil.

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The meeting comes amid signs that the global outlook has improved from the last G20 summit in October, when a number of economies were teetering on the brink of recession amid soaring energy and food prices.

The G-20 meeting is also expected to hold talks on debt relief for troubled countries, with pressure mounting on China, the world’s largest bilateral creditor, and other countries for a significant reduction in loans.

In a video address to the meeting, Chinese Finance Minister Liu Kun reiterated Beijing’s position that the World Bank and other multilateral development banks engage in debt relief by taking debt reduction measures together with bilateral creditors.

Additional reporting by David Lauder, Aftab Ahmed, Shivangi Acharya, Sarita Singh, Swati Bhatt, Christian Kramer and Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark John; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Kathryn Evans

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