The Daily Telegraph
India rebukes Putin for Ukraine invasion
Narendra Modi publicly chides Russian president over Ukraine invasion at meeting of major leaders
Vladimir Putin was yesterday publicly upbraided over his invasion of Ukraine by India’s prime minister, who told him now “is not an era for war”. Narendra Modi said he had “spoken to [Putin] on the phone” about the need to end the war, as the two met in Uzbekistan. Mr Putin replied that he “understood” Mr Modi’s concerns and wished to end the war as soon as possible. It came as Ukraine struck Russia’s headquarters in occupied Kherson with a missile attack during a meeting of top officials.
VLADIMIR PUTIN was yesterday publicly censured over his invasion of Ukraine by India’s prime minister.
In a rare moment of confrontation for the Russian president, Narendra Modi reminded him he had warned him about the need to end the war as the two met at a summit in Uzbekistan’s capital, Samarkand.
“I know that today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” Mr Modi told Mr Putin in televised remarks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) conference.
Hearing the comments, Mr Putin pursed his lips, glanced at Mr Modi then looked down at his notes.
In reply, he said he “understood” his concerns and wished to end the war as soon as possible but claimed Ukraine had rejected the opportunity to take part in negotiations.
Diplomatic relations with Delhi are increasingly important for Russia as India has become the second biggest buyer of Russian oil, behind China.
The Russian leader has been forced on to the back foot at the summit of leaders from across Asia where he was hoping to rally support from nations who have not joined the West’s sanction regime.
On Thursday he also told Xi Jinping, China’s president, that he understood his “concerns” about the war in Ukraine that has killed thousands and upended global markets.
Observers have noted that Mr Putin has lacked his typical air of superiority at the summit.
On Thursday, he was forced to stand and wait for the president of Kyrgyzstan
to arrive for their televised meeting, and yesterday Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, left him standing in front of the cameras for several minutes.
Mr Erdogan, who has made several attempts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and hosted ceasefire talks in March, was expected to try to persuade Mr Putin to sit down with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, for peace talks.
Mr Putin told Russian reporters at the end of his visit to Uzbekistan yesterday that no such discussion took place. Instead he sought to portray Moscow as a victim of Western machinations during a press conference with Kremlin-approved reporters.
“They just won’t do it,” he said of the Ukrainians’ stance on peace talks.
“Mr Zelensky has said publicly… that he’s not ready and he won’t talk with Russia. So he’s not ready? Oh well!”
Asked about staggering military losses in the south of Ukraine in recent weeks, Mr Putin insisted that the Russian conquest was proceeding as planned.
“Our main goal is to liberate all of the Donbas. This work is continuing,” he said.
He made no mention of the retaken areas of Kherson that just weeks before the Ukrainian counter-offensive were poised for a Russian “referendum” on a possible annexation.
Mr Putin also ominously threatened to target more of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure if Kyiv keeps on ordering attacks on military targets in the south of Russia.
He claimed that Russian intelligence foiled “terrorist plots” to attack areas near nuclear power stations in Russia but did not give further details
“Our response will be even stronger if the situation continues to develop the way it has been going,” he said, referring to Russia’s recent retaliatory strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure including a dam in Mr Zelensky’s home town.
Ukrainian officials yesterday mocked Mr Putin’s perceived isolation at the summit and made fun of his claims to seek peace after unleashing war on Ukraine in February.
“This is the last autumn for Russian autocrats,” Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr Zelensky, tweeted. “The ‘solution to the conflict’ is very simple: an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from all of Ukraine.”
In separate comments at the summit, Mr Xi said the world had entered a period of turmoil and that his fellow leaders should join together to suppress “colour revolutions”, a term used to describe pro-democracy movements such as those seen in Hong Kong.
Mr Xi stayed away from a dinner attended by 11 heads of state in line with his delegation’s strict Covid-19 policy.
He was also absent from a group photograph of the world leaders.
‘Zelensky has said publicly… that he’s not ready and he won’t talk with Russia. So he’s not ready? Oh well!’
No one is quite sure whether he meant to admit it or not, but there it is. China, said Vladimir Putin after his first tête-a-tête with Xi Jinping since the war started, has “questions” and “concerns” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’ll bet it does. A year ago, Xi was pleasantly contemplating the West’s inevitable decline and eyeing a decade as chief of the ascendant dictators’ club. This year, China is facing a renewed sense of purpose in the democratic world and, with gritted teeth, obeying a barrage of American sanctions.
What is really revealing about Putin’s comments, however, is not how badly wrong his war has gone (we already knew that), but what they reveal about Russia’s subservience to China. What started as a beautiful friendship is already turning sour.
It was just a month before Putin’s invasion when the two countries affirmed this undying “friendship”. It soon became clear that Moscow had quietly tipped off Beijing about its intentions. This was a worrying sign for the West. Since the days of Henry Kissinger, it has been received wisdom that we should try never to be at odds with Russia and China at the same time. You only have to look at a map to see why. A long-lasting authoritarian alliance between the two main empires of the Eurasian continent is a stomachchurning prospect.
Ukraine’s vigorous resistance and potential victory have, however, complicated the picture. If, as Putin had expected, Kyiv had fallen into his hands within days or even weeks, the Russo-chinese pseudo love-in could have gone on for years. Instead, with every Ukrainian breakthrough, the inevitable, unpalatable implications of Russia’s dependence upon China become clearer.
“Friendship”, you see, is such a slippery word. You might think it means military aid, sanctions-busting and sharing technology, but it might turn out that your “friend” just thought it meant buying a lot of cheap assets and resources off you while you’re weak.
Just like the West, Russia has always tried to have a hedging strategy when it comes to foreign relations. One of Putin’s major projects of the past decade has been to build pipelines to the east as well as west, to give Russian gas more routes to market. After all, despite soaring prices, Moscow’s budget slipped into deficit in August because of its European gas embargo. Russia needs options.
The first east-facing pipeline, Power of Siberia 1, began shipping gas to China in 2019. But an agreement over the second, Siberia 2, which would link up China to the same gas fields that supply Europe, ran into the sand in 2015 after the two sides couldn’t agree on gas prices.
In February, Xi and Putin declared the pipeline was back on, though it still wouldn’t start flowing until 2030. That didn’t stop Russia’s energy minister declaring this week that Siberia 2 could entirely replace European exports. What he didn’t mention is that now is not a brilliant time to negotiate. Moscow has marooned most of its gas inside Russia without a buyer. While that continues, Russia is a forced seller and Xi knows it.
At the same time, Russia has made itself into a forced buyer of high-tech goods. It needs equipment, semiconductors and finance to wage war. It is increasingly short of places to get them.
China cannot afford to bust US sanctions openly, because of its dependency on exports to America, but it could potentially be a source of under-the-radar goods for a desperate Moscow. So far, however, Beijing does not seem to be playing along. If and when it does decide to, there will be an important question to answer first: what will Russia have to give in return?
One of China’s asks over the years has been to get greater access for its migrants, companies and investors to Siberia. In 2015, Moscow was forced to put the kibosh on a huge Chinese land leasing deal in Siberia and, at the same time, imposed a language test for Chinese guest workers in the region, following furious protests at the prospect of a so-called Chinese worker “invasion”.
It is easy to see why those on the Russian side might feel threatened: just look again at a map, and find the country next to the half-empty, undeveloped wilds of Siberia that has a vast population, a huge thirst for resources, oodles of cash (for now at least) and a racist notion of its own superiority.
According to a 2020 report by the Free Russia Foundation, there is already a burgeoning industry of Russian firms acting as fronts for state-subsidised Chinese investors buying up gold, oil and factories in the country, especially in the Far East, and thriving Chinese influence operations in all sorts of Russian state entities. In the long run, it could well turn out that the biggest threat to Russia’s territorial integrity comes not from the West, but the East.
In truth, the only thing that really brings Russia and China together is a hatred of democratic liberalism and a shaky ideological fellowship based on a notion called the “civilisation state”. This ideology, in some ways a new iteration of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations”, promotes the idea that freedom and human rights are ideas limited to Western civilisation that have no universal applicability. Instead, each civilisation is driven by its own internal logic and must pursue its own destiny. As the historian Peter Eltsov puts it: “They think they’re not nation states any more – they’re above that.”
While this sounds intriguing in theory, in practice it is mainly a way to legitimise one-man rule by linking up Confucius with Mao or drawing a line from the tsars to Stalinism and the neo-fascist creed of “Eurasianism” and the Russian Orthodox Church. But although the civilisation-state doctrine may seem like a unifying factor between dictators, it is more likely to be a recipe for conflict between them.
What, after all, does the stridently materialist, atheistic doctrine of Xi Thought really have in common with Putin’s notion of Russia as the “third Rome” of Christendom – except an expansionist idea of their own exceptionalism?
The democratic world cannot force these realisations upon Russia, China or anyone else. But we could do a much better job of talking about them, loudly and clearly, and highlighting events that support our view of the world. For now, Moscow has in record time forced itself to enter into vassalage to China, but there is no inherent reason why this position should last.
If, indeed, Ukraine can hold its own and win the war, there is every reason to think that we could eventually pull Russia into a position of neutrality in the broader rivalry between China and the democratic world. The best reason to think so is that this would overwhelmingly be in Russia’s interests, a fact that will become increasingly obvious – even to Moscow.
It could well turn out that, in the long run, the biggest threat to Moscow’s territorial integrity isn’t the West but the East