Rajat Sharma

Why Modi asked Putin to call off the Ukraine war

AKBPrime Minister Narendra Modi minced no words when he clearly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “this is not the era of war”. He said this during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of SCO Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Friday. Modi underlined the significance of “democracy, dialogue and diplomacy” when he spoke about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Modi also urged Putin to take the initiative in addressing the problems faced by other countries in the form of foodgrains, fuel and fertiliser scarcity, due to the Ukraine war. Putin spoke before Modi. He acknowledged India’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and said his country will do its best to stop the conflict as soon as possible.

Modi’s appeal to Putin was the frontpage lead story on the web pages of Washington Post and New York Times. It was widely carried in American mainstream media. The Washington Post story was headlined, ‘Modi rebukes Putin over war in Ukraine’.

The report said, “In a stunning public rebuke, Modi told Putin: Today is not the era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this”. The report said, “Putin said, ‘I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, about the concerns that you constantly express. We will do our best to stop this as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced it was abandoning the negotiation process, and declared that it wants to achieve its goals by military means., as they say, on the battlefield. Nevertheless, we will keep you informed of what is happening there.’ ”

The New York Times headlined its story, “India’s leader tells Putin that now is not an era for war”. The report said, “Mr Modi’s comments came a day after President Xi Jinping of China – in his ffirst face-to-face meeting with Mr Putin since the invasion began – struck a far more subdued tone than the Russian president, and steered clear in his public comments of any mention of Ukraine.”

During his meeting with Putin, Modi was very careful while raising the Ukraine issue. He first thanked both Ukraine and Russia for the save evacuation of Indian students, expressed his gratitude and in the same breath, told Putin that war will not help either side. Modi said, war is not a solution, it is a problem.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year. At that time, Putin had said, the picture would be clear in seven days, and Russia will take control of Ukraine. Seven months have passed, and now Russian army units had to withdraw from several areas of occupied Ukraine. The economy of Ukraine has suffered huge damage, while the condition of Russian economy is no better. There is unemployment and pricerise in Russia, and this has resulted in consequences for the rest of the world.

Prices of crude and natural gas have risen. Russia and Ukraine are the major exporters of fertilisers. India imports fertilisers from Ukraine, but its supply lines have been cut due to the war. Lack of fertilisers has affected wheat cultivation. Overall, the war between Ukraine and Russia is neither help both, nor will it help the world. The problem is that Russia is no much neck deep in conflict, that it may become difficult for it to withdraw. Ukraine too is not in the mood for dialogue. It was in this context that Prime Minister Modi indicated to Putin indirectly that a stubborn policy will not help. The way out can be found only through diplomacy and dialogue, Modi told Putin.

At the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, Modi recounted how India helped other countries of the world by sending vaccines and medicines. He pointed out that India has now become a big hub for startups, but some countries are trying to create obstacles. He was indirectly referring to Pakistan which has refused to give India transit rights to Central Asia. India’s gas pipeline project from Tajikisatan via Afghanistan and Pakistan, is hanging fire due to Pakistan’s intransigence. At the Summit, Modi demanded that all countries must get transit rights for better connectivity.

India wanted to help the starving people of Afghanistan by sending truckloads of foodgrains, but Pakistan objected. Modi’s speech was heard by Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who went on a different tangent. He called for inclusion of Afghanistan in SCO. Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto was present during the Summit. Bhutto admitted that there was hard talk between Shehbaz Sharif and Narendra Modi. He was asked whether Pakistan would attend SCO summit next year in India. Bhutto replied, Pakistan has not yet decided.

The icing on the cake was when Putin told Modi that he knew the Indian PM would be celebrating his birthday on Saturday, but, he said, in Russian tradition, it is not considered auspicious to wish anybody on his birthday before hand. “But I want to tell you, my friend, that you are going to celebrate your birthday tomorrow. Because of Russian tradition, I cannot wish you in advance. I offer my good wishes to you and Indian, which is Russia’s friend”, Putin said.

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