Prime Minister Narendra Modi did convey forcefully enough, to Vladimir Putin in Samarkand that “this is not an era of war”
India and Russia are on a good wicket. While that is historically true and dates to a time when the West had imposed nuclear equipment and other arms embargoes on India and was also hassling India on the Kashmir issue at the UN, it is ironic that the 2022 war in Ukraine may have brought the two countries even closer with Russia displaced Iraq and Saudi Arabia as India’s top oil supplier last month with nearly a million barrels a day.
India’s stand on the invasion of Ukraine, as reflected in its voting pattern at the UN which was never condemnatory of Russia, set the tone for the current high in ties. But that had not stopped India from voicing strong opposition to the war, as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself did in conveying, forcefully enough, to Vladimir Putin in Samarkand that “this is not an era of war.”
India’s anti-war stand was further stressed during external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow when he also pointed out to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov that the economic situation was affecting the “Global South” disproportionately. However, regardless of what India and other nations like Turkey may have said in encouraging Russia to stop the offensive and go to the table, it is entirely up to Putin and his closest advisers to determine the course of events regarding disengagement.
Pragmatic India’s may not have claimed the moral high ground at any time since the invasion began on February 24, but it has succeeded in putting its point across, specifically to the US, that it can buy Russian oil at discounted prices to help shore its economy at a time of runaway energy prices. And since Europe itself had been continuing to buy oil and gas for billions of dollars from Russian energy sources this year also, there was little the West could expect to say on the matter that could have made India feel guilty.
Sardonic comments emanating now from the West on Indian dollar payments aiding Russia in the war are too hypocritical to be taken too seriously. Given the balance of trade swinging hugely towards Russia, it would be excessively optimistic of India to expect to pay for the oil in rupees. But who can dictate that India cannot buy Russian oil? Suffice it to say, India is in a good place regarding the import of a major part of its oil needs and any talk of imposing a price cap on Russian oil is wishful thinking on the part of the US.
The signals emanating in the last couple of days about Volodymyr Zelenskyy being prepared to lead Ukraine back to talks are encouraging even if they come with the caveat that the talks would have to be on Ukraine’s terms like Russia relinquishing conquered territory and paying reparations. An agreement on talks might seem farfetched right now. Since all nations, including Ukraine the most and Russia, are affected adversely by the hits to the world economy, there is always the hope that reason would dawn on the region. India’s willingness to do whatever it can to help the peace process, short of a direct offer of mediation though, has been stated but then, as common knowledge has it, Mr Putin is the one who must relent.