Behind the Ukraine Consensus at G20: 200 Hours of Negotiations, 300 Meetings, 15 Drafts and 4 Diplomats

The G20 Summit Leaders’ Declaration, adopted on Saturday, has avoided mentioning the Russia-Ukraine war and made a general call to all states to follow the principle of respecting each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, in what is largely seen as a climbdown by the Western powers on the conflict.

India managed to hammer out an unexpected consensus among the G20 countries on the contentious issue through a series of hectic negotiations with emerging economies such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia playing a leading role in reaching the breakthrough.

According to a report in The Indian Express, the text of the declaration was the result of painstaking work put in for months by four Indian Foreign Services diplomats who were part of India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant’s team.

Abhay Thakur

Additional Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Abhay Thakur is the G20 deputy, or Sous Sherpa, to Amitabh Kant. According to The Indian Express report, Thakur, who has served as India’s envoy to Mauritius and Nigeria, is fluent in Russian. He has also reportedly handled Nepal and Bhutan in the MEA.

K Nagraj Naidu

Joint Secretary K Nagraj Naidu was reportedly one of the lead negotiators on parts of the declaration that referred to the situation in Ukraine. Fluent in Chinese, Naidu served as the Chef de Cabinet to the President of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid.

When Shahid’s tenure ended in September 2022, he had described Naidu in his closing remarks as “a truly outstanding diplomat, a steady hand in crisis, committed and hardworking”.

“An IFS of 1998 batch, Naidu… has served in four separate stints in Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. He has handled the MEA’s Economic Diplomacy division and headed the Europe West Division where he was in charge of ties with major G7 countries…” the IE report said.

Eenam Gambhir

Joint Secretary G20 and 2005 batch IFS officer Eenam Gambhir, the lone woman on the team, is no stranger to making headlines.

In September 2016, as then First Secretary in the Indian Mission to the UN, Gambhir had delivered India’s Right of Reply to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s UN General Assembly address.

“The world has not yet forgotten that the trail of that dastardly attack led all the way to Abbottabad in Pakistan. The land of Taxila, one of the greatest learning centres of ancient times, is now host to the Ivy League of terrorism. It attracts aspirants and apprentices from all over the world. The effect of its toxic curriculum are felt across the globe,” she had said in the rousing speech.

A few days later, Gambhir had again delivered the Right of Reply when Islamabad’s then UN envoy Maleeha Lodhi responded to then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s address to the UN General Debate.

Then again in 2017, it was Gambhir who took on Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, saying in India’s Right of Reply that “nn its short history, Pakistan has become a geography synonymous with terror. The quest for a land of pure has actually produced ‘the land of pure terror’. Pakistan is now Terroristan… Its current state can be gauged from the fact that Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, a leader of the United Nations designated terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba, is now sought to be legitimised as a leader of a political party.”

Ashish Sinha

Like Gambhir, Ashish Sinha too is a 2005 batch IFS officer and is reportedly fluent in Spanish. Having served in Madrid, Kathmandu, New York and Nairobi, Sinha has reportedly been negotiating for India over the last seven years in multilateral settings.

‘200 Hours of Non-Stop Negotiations’

G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant revealed on Sunday that it “took over 200 hours of non-stop negotiations” to deliver a consensus on the G20 declaration. The team of diplomats, including Eenam Gambhir and K Nagraj Naidu, held 300 bilateral meetings and circulated 15 drafts with their counterparts on the contentious Ukraine conflict to drive home a consensus that was clinched on the first day of the G20 Leaders’ Summit.

“The most complex part of the entire G20 was to bring consensus on the geopolitical paras (Russia-Ukraine). This was done over 200 hours of non-stop negotiations, 300 bilateral meetings, 15 drafts,” Kant said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Saturday that the Leaders’ Declaration had been adopted on the first day of the weekend G20 summit in New Delhi.

“On the back of the hard work of all the teams, we have received consensus on the G20 Leaders’ Summit Declaration. I announce the adoption of this declaration,” Modi told the leaders, including US President Joe Biden and heads of government and state from across the world.

The consensus came as a surprise as G20 is deeply divided over the war in Ukraine, with Western nations earlier pushing for strong condemnation of Russia in the Leaders’ Declaration, while others demanded a focus on broader economic issues.

“We call 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,” the declaration said.

“We… welcome all relevant and constructive initiatives that support a comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine… The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” the statement added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the declaration demonstrated a clear position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by saying that the territorial integrity of countries cannot be called into question with violence.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the declaration had “very strong language about Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine”. “I think that is a good and strong outcome.”

With agency inputs

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