India is turning more optimistic about achieving a consensus from Group of 20 nations on the language used to describe Russia's war in Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Representatives from various countries have stayed in the same room in recent meetings, marking a contrast with the regular walkouts during similar talks last year in Indonesia, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the meetings are private. That has raised hopes for some sort of a compromise similar to that achieved last November on the resort island of Bali, the person said, adding that any escalation of the war could upset this fragile balance.
India, which is set to host the annual G-20 summit in September, is under pressure to show it can forge an agreement after two major meetings ended this year ended with Russia and China objecting to language around the war. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to use India's G-20 presidency to "depoliticize" the supply chains of food and fertilizer made scarce by the war.
India's top G-20 negotiator, Amitabh Kant, said on Thursday that the group still isn't close to reaching a settlement over the language in a joint statement at the leaders meeting in September. The body needs to also discuss pressing issues such as global debt and climate change as part of that, he said.
"The Russia-Ukraine issue cannot hold many other issues back," Kant told reporters in the picturesque beach town of Kumarakom in southern India, where the negotiators were meeting this week. Billboards leading to the venue read "Welcome sherpas, may the backwaters lead you forward."
Kant said he held a "very positive and optimistic" meeting with his Russian counterpart Svetlana Lukash on Thursday, saying they "discussed everything under the sun."
While the meetings this week were ostensibly focused on digital public infrastructure, the G-20 sherpas are using the discussions to address the war in Ukraine - the biggest sticking point for the group. Since Russia's invasion began more than a year ago, India has emerged as one of the biggest swing nations, maintaining close ties with the US but abstaining from United Nations votes to condemn the war. It's also held back from participating in US-led efforts to sanction Moscow and continues to snatch up cheap Russian oil.
As G-20 host, India has struggled to use its relatively friendly ties with President Vladimir Putin to get member nations to reach an agreement. Meetings of the finance and foreign ministers both ended with a chairman's statement from India - a reflection of a lack of consensus - as Moscow and Beijing opposed language on the war that all countries had agreed to just months earlier.
While Indonesia also gave chairman's statements in the run-up to the leaders meeting last year, it also had to contend with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other finance ministers and central bank governors walking out when Russian officials addressed a meeting.