BENGALURU – Tensions over Russia’s war on Ukraine flared Friday at meetings of financial chiefs of the Group of 20 leading economies, where geopolitics affected the atmosphere if not the agenda of the gathering in the Indian technology hub of Bengaluru.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen condemned the “illegal and unjustified war against Ukraine” at a session attended by Russian officials and reiterated calls for G-20 nations to do more to support Ukraine and hinder Moscow's war effort.
“I urge the Russian officials here at the G-20 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.”
As the meetings convened on the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, such issues were bound to crop up, despite host India's reluctance to be caught between allies of Ukraine and Russia and other countries supporting Moscow, such as China.
In kicking off the meetings Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi avoided mention of Ukraine.
Meeting on the G-20 sidelines, Yellen and British Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt condemned the war and said they were working together to deal with the crisis.
Hunt praised efforts to support Ukraine, according to remarks provided by U.S. Treasury officials.
“We are pleased that there is such unity among democracies that this cannot be allowed to happen. We don’t think the job is by any means done,” he said.
“There is no choice between whether we focus on Ukraine or focus on other important global issues like climate change. In the end if we don’t resolve global security threats, there can be no progress on these other areas,” Hunt said.
The wording of a communique due to be issued Saturday when the talks wrap up was evidently still under discussion, as other forums such as the Group of Seven prepared to announce new sanctions against Russia.
At the last major G-20 meeting, in Bali, Indonesia, G-20 leaders strongly condemned the war, warning that the conflict is intensifying fragilities in the world’s economy. They finessed divisions among them given that the group includes Russia and also countries like China and India that have significant trade ties with Moscow and have stopped short of outright criticism of the war.
“In Bali, high level leaders decided on strong condemnation of the brutal attack by Russia and as finance ministers we must stick to it,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters at a news conference. He said he would walk out if the gathering failed to evince a strong stance against the war.
A senior Indian official, speaking on condition they not be named because the talks were confidential, said as hosts India was determined to work toward a consensus and come out with a communique.
In welcoming the G-20 policymakers, Modi urged them to focus on helping the world's most vulnerable people.
“You represent the leadership of global finance and economy at a time when the world is facing serious economic difficulties," Modi said in a video address.
As countries deal with slew of challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic, including unsustainable debt, conflict, inflation and eroding trust in international financial institutions, “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," he said.
The meetings in Bengaluru were due to touch on a wide range of issues including digital currencies and payments, reform of institutions like the World Bank, climate change and financial inclusion.
Multiple meetings between various leaders were also taking place, including talks between India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, and her counterparts from France and Brazil.
The G-20 meetings offer a chance for leaders to consider how to coordinate their policies: many central banks including the U.S. Federal Reserve have been raising interest rates sharply to try to rein in decades-high inflation brought on by various factors including the war and rebounding demand for travel, goods and services following the COVID-19 pandemic.
With increases in income lagging behind, rising costs for food, housing, fuel and fertilizer impose huge burdens, especially on the poor and in developing nations, where debt burdens have surged both at the national and household levels.
As the G-20 host this year, India is taking the opportunity to showcase its ascent as an economic power.
Modi suggested the gathering could “draw hope from the vibrant Indian economy," which is forecast to grow at a more than 6% annual pace this year, making it one of the fastest growing in the world. He also pointed to the country’s digital payments technology as a model to be emulated.
AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok and AP reporter Krutika Pathi in New Delhi contributed.