By Haider Abbas
The much awaited meeting of India’s PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) at Samarkand, Uzbekistan, took place on September 16, and quite understandably it grabbed the world headlines. The talk between the two leaders can be heard, on various news channels which the world media is right now to decode into. The meeting had assumed great importance as Russia and Ukraine are at war since February and there is no sign for any early ceasefire. India from the first day had maintained equidistance between Russia and US, which along with EU is supporting Ukraine and India has as yet not budged to US pressures. US wanted India to shun buying Russian ‘oil and gas’ which India did not comply which obviously did not go well with US.
The world media, before this meeting was to take place, was debating, that Modi would put into efforts to please Putin, to invite the and obvious from snarls US, Bloomberg reported, that ‘Modi’s outreach to Putin risks putting India in US crosshair’s’ and that Modi would avoid looking too chummy to the two world top anti-US world leaders i.e. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, but surely, Modi came-up with a big surprise when he stated that today is not an era of war! Interestingly, there have been reports of India-China disengagement from the hostile positions which the two nations have been ‘maintaining’ since June 2020 conflict, which saw 20 Indian and 4 Chinese soldiers dead in Galwan valley clash in Ladakh.
Going by the body language of Modi-Putin, it can easily be deciphered that unlike on previous occasions, Modi did not engage into any ‘hug’ and Putin also, like his always stride, offered only a hand-shake. This is by itself a statement, as India had been a long traditional ally of the erstwhile Soviet Union from the past around seven decades, and has only recently, recalibrated its strategic compass to look towards US, yet India has maintained a striking balance between the two world-powers. The traditional warmth was however a miss. Modi, clearly did not give positive signal to Russia which has gone to war against Ukraine and is in togetherness with China to show aggressiveness against Japan.
The background meeting, therefore, turned out to be a clear signal from India, that India want peace to exist as ‘this is not the era of war’ sounded well from Modi to Putin, reported DNA . This was the first meeting between the two since the outbreak of the Ukraine war. This Indian stand can easily be construed as pro-US, which has in the past around two-decades devastated nations like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and there is a war lurking on Iran etc, by this standard India, just wanted to play safe, and did not want to antagonize US, at the cost of Russia. Modi, also took the opportunity to thank both the Russian and Ukrainian authorities to have worked-well, to make thousands of Indian students stranded in Ukraine reach home. Modi added a balance-feature by lauding both the nations. Referring Putin as ‘Excellency’ he referred to ‘democracy, diplomacy and dialogue’ to be exercised to solve the issues. It can easily be viewed that while Modi spoke, Putin sat with his legs apart, tapping his feet, in a show that he was not ‘really’ is approval to Modi’s expressions. Whilst, Putin expressed, “I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, the concerns that you constantly express. We will do everything to stop this as soon as possible.” He said Ukraine had rejected negotiations. Ukraine has said it will fight until it drives all Russian troops from its land. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he will never accept a “peace” that allows Russia to keep Ukrainian land,’ reported Reuters.
India is the second largest buyer of Russian oil after China, and Modi, surely and certainly, tried to ‘aware’ Putin, that despite the pressure from US to not to buy Russian oil, yet India has persisted with it (while in the meantime benefitting heavily due to slashed Russian prices) yet India wants Russia to end the war against Ukraine, which is the standard US line! But, Putin stayed calm, unruffled and referred to Modi’s as a ‘dear friend’ and that Modi’s birthday was to be the next day, and but owing to Russian tradition he could not offer his congratulations in advance. This masterstroke from Putin eased out the atmosphere while everything turned into a lighter vein as Putin successfully tried to polish the whole scenario that, with US and EU, already ganged-up against Russia, India is still to remain on the same ‘old-ally’ pedestal.
Putin, however, also took the occasion to push for buyers for its gas pipelines as there is a tremendous pressure from EU on it, hence, Russia signaled for possibilities for a gas-pipeline from Central Asian Republics to Pakistan and also to India, via the Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India (TAPI) gas-pipeline project, in his meeting with Pakistan PM Shahbaz Sharif. But, that still is to remain a distant dream as unless there is stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan giving it a ‘clearance’ towards India, such a situation is not likely to arise. Pakistan is also leant to have expressed reservations towards the next SCO meet to be held in India in 2023, due to the issue of JK and Ladakh, whose special status accorded under Article 370 of Constitution of India, had been annulled by Modi, on August 5, 2019. But, Iran, in fact has been inducted as the 23 nation into the prestigious SCO platform, which is sponsored by China as an alternative to US led world forums. Iran’s presence in India will belittle the absence of Pakistan for sure.
Meanwhile, Putin has appreciated China’s balanced-approach towards Russia-Ukraine conflict and has reportedly warned with a ‘grin’ that war in Ukraine might get serious. Let’s see as to what is to lead the world once this war comes to an end.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international politics.