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G20 finance summit: War in Ukraine takes center stage

February 24, 2023

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged G20 finance leaders to "redouble their efforts to support Ukraine and restrict Russia's capacity to wage war."

The image of the Indian presidency on a video wall at the G20 simmit
Rising geo-political tensions had led to unsustainable debt levels in several countries and threats to food security, said India's PM in opening remarksImage: India's Press Information Bureau/via REUTERS

The war in Ukraine dominated as finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) leading economies kicked off their summit on Friday in the Indian technology hub of Bengaluru.

During the meeting, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reiterated US support for Ukraine and said that the United States "will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes."

US calls out Russia over Ukraine

Yellen used the forum to raise the issue of the war in Ukraine. She called out Russian officials attending the meeting and accused them of being "complicit" in the atrocities and damage the Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused.

She urged G20 members to "redouble their efforts to support Ukraine and restrict Russia's capacity to wage war."

Yellen also said that Russia's "weaponization" of food and energy has not only impacted Ukraine adversely but has also affected the global economy, particularly of developing countries.

Leaders of the G7 democracies, who are also part of the G20, were expected to announce a new round of sanctions against those aiding Moscow's aggression against Ukraine.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Reuters news agencies that the summit must condemn Russia's war. 

Media reports said India, which holds the current G20 presidency, was seeking to block discussions about more sanctions against Russia. New Delhi has so far kept a neutral stance on the war. 

The summit host was reportedly also pressing to avoid using language such as the term "war" in the communique. Moscow has consistently referred to the invasion as a "special military operation."

German Finance Minister Christian Linder has insisted that the summit's joint statement includes the term "war." 

"For a year we have been witnesses of this awful war in Ukraine started by Russia. And especially on a day like this, and at an occasion such as a G20 event, we need absolute clarity," Linder said. 

"This is a war. And this war has a cause, has one cause, and that is Russia and (Russian President) Vladimir Putin. That must be expressed clearly at this G20 finance meeting," Lindner told a news conference.

What else is on the G20 agenda?

At the summit, finance leaders and central bank chiefs will be discussing the issues such as inflation, digital currencies, World Bank reform, climate change and financial inclusion.

In a video address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "It is up to you, the custodians of the leading economies and market systems ... to bring back stability, confidence and growth to the global economy."

Although many economies have taken a hit since Russia's war in Ukraine started, the global outlook has demonstrated signs of improvement. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast global GDP growth for this year at 2.9%, up from a 2.7% forecast in October. 

Yellen said the progress was partly thanks to cooperation among G20 central banks and governments taking strong action to quell inflation, even at the expense of growth.

Discussions on global debt are also on the agenda. The US has long criticized China, the world's largest bilateral creditor, over what it considers to be "foot-dragging" on debt relief for dozens of low-and middle-income countries.

China has urged the G20 to hold a fair and objective analysis of the question of global debt and resolve it in a comprehensive and effective manner.

Beijing wants financial institutions and commercial creditors to follow the principle of "joint action, fair burden" in debt settlements, according to China's finance minister, Liu Kun.

It was speculated that Liu would be meeting US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the sidelines of the summit. However, China's Finance Ministry's statement confirmed that he joined the meeting virtually.

Davos: Head of UNDP: Debt poses dramatic risk

fb, mf/rt (AP, Reuters)