There was nothing sharp or spectacular in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s opening remarks during his recent bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Samarkand in Uzbekistan, where he said, “now is not the time for war.” Putin knew what was coming. He acknowledged that Modi had made the point multiple times in their telephonic conversations earlier. Yet, Western media and policy wonks spun Modi’s remark as a stinging rebuke of the Russian dictator, inferring that the cooperation Putin is getting from his allies is not total.
A day earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping, too, had brought up Ukraine during his bilateral with Putin, which the latter revealed in his press briefing. Putin admitted Xi had questions and concerns regarding the war. Would he have disclosed it had he seen in the concerns a subtle reprimand? Yet, policy experts in the West sought to read in Xi’s statement about his willingness to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibility of a major country, an implicit admonishment. In Xi’s case, there was at least an element of surprise, as China had largely stayed silent on the invasion. Modi’s anti-war line is well known. When, for instance, he had called up Putin in July last to urge him to pursue dialogue and diplomacy instead of conflict, it hadn’t led to media spin doctoring.
The Western hair-splitting is perhaps due to its exasperation at the new normal as the war is turning out to be much more expensive and long drawn out than thought. It is sucking up billions of dollars in war financing and has also wrecked economies recovering from the post-pandemic trauma. The cost of commodities has shot up, fuelling runaway inflation, making many ruling dispensations unpopular and people’s lives miserable. In the past, the West hadn’t itself experienced energy deprivation when it lectured the world on climate change. Now, kicking and screaming, Europe is bracing for heat rationing at homes during winter as Russia has turned off its natural gas tap in retaliation against sanctions.
Putin might claim he wants to resolve the crisis soon, but there is no immediate endgame in sight. If anything, exhumed mass graves in recaptured Ukrainian territories bear testimony to the brutality of the invading forces, fuelling further anger. Chances of Cold War II dragging on is a distinct possibility we need to wrap our heads around.