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Security personnel walk along a corridor of a G20 venue after the closing session of the G20 summit in New Delhi on Sept. 10.MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

Heading into this weekend’s G20 summit, there were fears leaders might not agree on a joint declaration for the first time, forcing host India to issue a chair statement that would have highlighted growing rifts just as the bloc’s legitimacy is being challenged by other multinational institutions vying for greater influence.

In securing a unanimous agreement Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured the New Delhi summit would be remembered for success rather than failure. Not only that, he also delivered on promises to the Global South, adding the African Union as a permanent member and expanding the G20 to represent an additional 54 countries.

India was determined not to allow the Ukraine conflict to derail the summit, and Mr. Modi appears to have used his personal influence to win over recalcitrant partners to a statement considerably watered down compared with last year. Even then, it was a close run thing, with agreement only coming Saturday afternoon, after what one Indian official said were “very tough, very ruthless negotiations.”

“In the end, the issue was clinched because of the leadership of the Prime Minister, because eventually we had to say the leader wants it, and this has to be delivered,” Amitabh Kant, India’s chief representative to the G20, told reporters, adding his team had “worked very closely with Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia” in lobbying for consensus.

The compromise language – which does not mention Russia by name – is in contrast to both that used at the Bali G20 meeting last year, when most members said they “strongly condemned the war in Ukraine,” and a stinging declaration issued by the G7 in May criticizing “Russia’s illegal war of aggression.”

Western officials have publicly supported the New Delhi declaration and commended Mr. Modi’s leadership, but it seems likely they were the ones being won over: Russia on Sunday praised the statement as “balanced,” even as Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it was “nothing to be proud of” and complained that Kyiv had not been invited to New Delhi to make its case.

It appears to reflect the comparatively weaker influence of the West within the G20, which has now been further diluted by the addition of the African Union, many members of which have close ties to Russia and China.

Speaking Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said if it were up to him, the G20 leaders’ declaration on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have been much stronger.

For his part, Mr. Modi conveyed strong concerns about protests in Canada against India to Mr. Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, according a statement by India.

Mr. Modi, who held bilateral meetings with many world leaders during the G20 summit, did not hold one with Mr. Trudeau.

While drawing closer to Washington amid growing tensions with Beijing, New Delhi has carved out an independent position on Ukraine, as has next year’s host Brazil. Speaking Saturday, Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Russian President Vladimir Putin – who skipped the New Delhi summit – would be welcome at Rio de Janeiro 2024.

A growing challenge from BRICS appears to have been front of mind for some G20 attendees. At the South Africa meetings, members agreed to expand the bloc to include six new countries, a major priority for China but one that was reportedly opposed by India. The balance in the grouping has now shifted from being a majority of democracies to mostly authoritarian countries, all of which have strong ties to Beijing and Moscow.

As well as Mr. Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping stayed away from New Delhi, sending Premier Li Qiang in his place, something many analysts saw as a deliberate snub of Mr. Modi.

In a joint statement Saturday, India and the three countries which will host the next G20 summits – Brazil, the United States, and South Africa – reaffirmed their commitment “to the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation to deliver solutions for our shared world.”

Officially taking over the G20 presidency on Sunday, Lula said “we cannot let geopolitical issues hijack” the group’s agenda. “We are not interested in a divided G20,” he added. “Only with a joint action can we face the challenges of our days.”

But while BRICS has yet to prove it is useful for much beyond being another forum for leaders to pontificate at, the G20 equally did not go as far in pushing key issues forward as many had hoped ahead of this summit.

“There were several great gaps” in the declaration, said John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto, including on debt relief, reforming the International Monetary Fund, and food security. “Most of the commitments were weak, with G20 leaders promising to keep doing what they have already committed to do or to explore options, endorse or support others’ work or commission studies.”

The greatest gap, he said, was on the topic of climate change, which along with Ukraine had been one of the more contentious issues heading into this weekend.

Earlier talks among climate ministers ended in acrimony amid claims Saudi Arabia and China were using wrecking tactics, and the New Delhi declaration made little progress on Bali, with none of its goals “nearly ambitious enough to contain the climate emergency the world now faces,” Prof. Kirton said.

With reports from Reuters and The Canadian Press

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