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Russia’s actions in Ukraine, food crisis relevant issues in G20 agenda: EU envoy

Russia’s “aggressive” actions in Ukraine, which are causing huge losses of lives and damage to infrastructure, have resulted in the disruption of global food and energy supplies, creating challenges for the G20 agenda, European Union Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto told India Today.

In an exclusive interview with India Today, Astuto discussed a range of issues from India’s G20 presidency to the challenges faced due to the Russia-Ukraine war and climate change.


The envoy commended India’s G20 presidency for focusing on key global issues like climate change, digital transition and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He emphasised that these topics were crucial for both the developed and developing world, including Africa, and lauded the expansion of the G20 to include the African Union.

When asked about the challenges, particularly the absence of a joint communique during India’s presidency, Astuto attributed it to the “erratic moment” in international politics, primarily caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Regarding a potential joint communique, Astuto deferred the issue to the Sherpas (representatives), indicating that the complex environment makes it hard to predict outcomes. He pointed out that the EU is actively working to alleviate the food and energy crises caused by Russia’s policies, especially in Africa.

On climate change, Astuto emphasised that global warming is an existential threat requiring urgent and collective action. He acknowledged differing opinions between the Global South and the West but called for unity. He also praised India’s efforts in green energy and emission reduction.

As for the future of EU-India relations, Astuto described it as a “particularly happy moment”, highlighting the progress on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the formation of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) as significant steps toward collaboration on supply chain security and green technologies.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

How do you look at India’s presidency all through the year? What do you think the deliverables are going to be?

Astuto: Well, I think the Indian presidency has done terrific work by putting up on the table very topical issues of interest for the international community. I could mention some like the fight against climate change or the digital transition, that is, the use of digital solutions for the provision of public services. The achievement of the SDGs, which the UN Secretary-General clearly said that we risk not achieving and not respecting our calendar (target dates). So, we need to focus.

We also welcome the enlargement of the G20 to the African Union. So, quite a number of topical issues which are extremely relevant for the international community and we are very happy to support the Indian presidency in that.

For India and in this presidency, there have been 90 ministerials and yet not a single joint communique or an outcome document with consensus. The Russia-Ukraine war is certainly an aspect but also China. What’s your reading on the challenges that India has had to face?


Astuto: Well, unfortunately, we are living through a very erratic moment in international relations. We are not in the business-as-usual environment. We have Russian aggression going on in Europe, Russian aggression against Ukraine which is continuing, causing unspeakable loss of life and damage. This is having a clear effect on food prices and energy prices. Let me underscore this, these are the result of a deliberate Russian policy.

All this clearly makes the circumstances very difficult for the Indian presidency. What is happening with this aggression is relevant for the G20. Issues such as the increase in food prices, the risk of food shortages in Africa, for instance. These are very relevant issues for the G20. We cannot simply ignore the fact that we are living through a particular moment in history. And, unfortunately, the Indian presidency has to cope with that and this issue is a fact of the G20.

What could the G20 really do in ensuring security in the realm of food and energy when the world is grappling with the one of the worst crises ever?


Astuto: I think it’s important we look at the causes of the rising food prices. As I said earlier, this is the outcome of a deliberate Russian policy. We have also seen the Russians withdrawing from the Black Sea grain agreement. We see Russia bombing the Ukrainian ports and storage facilities. This is a very deliberate action directed at making the steady supply of grains from Ukraine impossible. This affects a large number of nations, particularly poor nations, particularly in Africa.

That’s why, as the EU, we believe that the international community needs to come together and make it clear to the Russian leadership that it’s not acceptable to resort to these sorts of tactics. We need to resume the Black Sea grain agreement. And in the meantime, we have been trying to help those most in need. We have set up the solidarity lines, which means alternative routes for Ukrainian grain. For the past couple of years, we have been increasing our aid, particularly to Africa, to tackle the scarcity of grain and the food crisis.

How do you see climate change? You said that climate change is an important aspect and his presidency focused on it. But again, when it comes to the climate change ministerials there was no consensus. There were differences of opinion on the Global South versus the West. Where do you see the voice of the Global South and their needs and their wants?


Astuto: I refer to the repeated calls of the UN Secretary-General for the international community to come together. He said that climate change is an existential crisis for the whole of humanity. And that’s very true. We are facing a situation where if we are not going to respect the upper limit we set in our increase in global warming of 1.5 degrees, we risk assisting to a much higher level of warming in the coming years.

We have seen an increase in extreme weather events all over the world. Nobody’s an exception be it Europe, Asia or anywhere else. I think the need is there for all of us to come together to inject a sense of urgency. As the EU, we have shown our commitment. For the first time, we are providing development aid globally and climate finance. So, we walk the talk.

The role played by India is also very important. We appreciate initiatives like Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s LiFE initiative and that’s important when it comes to individual behaviours. And what India has been doing in investing substantially in solar is very important. What India does in terms of reducing emissions is of fantastic importance to the rest of the world. I think the EU and India can work together to shape the global agenda towards a greener future.

Before I let you go Ambassador, your delegation is due to visit. Any expectations from the EU-India relations?

Astuto: Well, I think we are going through a particularly happy moment in EU-India relations. The past few years have seen great strides since the decision to resume the negotiation on the FTA. We have seen the visit of the President of the Commission in 2022. We have seen the setting up of the Trade and Technology Council, an extremely important tool that brings together ministers from the Indian government and two vice presidents of the European Commission to discuss issues such as the security of supply chains or green technologies.

These are issues that are particularly important for the future of the EU and mankind as a whole. I think we are at the moment where we are really achieving targets in terms of cooperation and collaboration.

Edited By:

Prateek Chakraborty

Published On:

Sep 5, 2023

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