By N. Sathiya Moorthy
The unsaid Indian anxieties about getting caught in the Ukraine War as G20 chair seem to be coming true. Rather, the war-centric Western campaign within the grouping has the capacity to derail India’s positive agenda for the year, to try and help to make the world a better place to live, for all humans and not just a few.
At the first of the ministerial meetings of G20 nations, this one of finance ministers and central bank heads, at Bengaluru last week, Western representatives had allegedly taunted the Russian delegation on the war. China opposed their bid to convert the conclave into yet another Russia-bashing event, as done already with the UNSC and UNGA.
Moscow has since cautioned against a repeat performance (at the upcoming G20 foreign ministers’ meet), where it fears ‘open black-mail’ by the US and its allies. In short, the Bengaluru conclave ended without a joint communiqué, and there is already anxiety about a repeat performance at all ministerial sessions, leading all the way up to the G-20 summit in September.
By going public on the Bengaluru episode even while praising Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her team for chairing the session effectively, Moscow seems to be serving notice on other G20 capitals, and also New Delhi – that if they were forced to boycott future sessions, Russia and Russians should not be blamed. Or, so it seems. Russian President Vladimir Putin had boycotted the previous G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, anticipating isolation, but the expectation was that he would attend this year’s summit if only to please the Indian host, even if it meant that Russia would have to stomach some of the criticisms hurled at it by the Western bloc.
By the same token, the US-led West seems to be doing everything at the G20 forums – and India has set up many more than is usual for its year-long chairmanship – to irritate Russia and possibly ‘expose’ India’s limitations as the chair, whether intended or otherwise. If India’s much-hyped G20 chairmanship could do it for them, and if there is visible alienation between India and Russia, they would be happy for it. Even without G20, both Moscow and also Beijing would be closely watching the relatively low-profile India-NATO engagement, scheduled for New Delhi, also in the first week of March – but for entirely different reasons and purposes.
De-risking global economy
Instead of a joint communiqué, the G20 finance ministers and central bank heads settled for a Chair’s Summary and Outcomes Document. According to reports, the G20 finance ministers’ meet differed over the Franco-American demand for condemning what they called Russia’s ‘invasion’ of Ukraine, but India as the chair and host said it was not the forum to address such an issue and would have been happier for terms like ‘crisis’ or ‘challenge’ to describe what everyone agreed was a ‘geo-political situation’.
The West should have known. India had abstained from every other UNSC and UNGA votes that called Russia the ‘invader’ – and voted against Moscow only on procedural issues. As may be recalled, the West had tried in vain through the past year of Ukraine War, through open diplomatic initiatives and offensives, often at the personal-level, to make India join their ranks, but have failed. The latest was the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who made the appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent New Delhi visit.
India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar has sort of indicated the impossibility of the emerging situation within G20 when he pointed out that ‘de-risking global economy’ was the grouping’s task (but was not happening as much as it should). Ever since the Ukraine War made India’s conventional balancing act too hard to continue, Jaishankar has turned out to be a plain speaker and tough-talker.
The minister’s unforgettable chiding of Europe has since gone into the records of the Munich Security Conference, held months later. Implying a return or continuance of the colonial era mind-set, he said that Europe wanted its own problems to be the world’s problems but without realizing that the world’s problems were also its own.
Maybe, India needed to say as much and in public, as it needed to be heard over and above the cacophony that Europe was becoming in the early weeks of the Ukraine War that the over-protective continental powers refused to believe that there was a world outside their boundaries that suffered as much, if not more than many of them, owing to the massive supply-chain issues that the Ukraine War had triggered. For India, which had found a way out of the Covid-centric problems faced by its neighbours and such other Third World nations, the Ukraine War was too much to pretend that all was well with the world around its beings.
For its Covid-care that reached out across the world, those like Guyanese foreign minister Hugh Todd had the integrity to acknowledge that India was doing what multilateral institutions should have done, and was already acting like a multilateral institution, itself. This is the kind of soft power that the nation has created and should be building upon, much more than seeking out cultural ties, which may not be reciprocated in equal measure by countries that have historic cultural linkages and people-to-people contacts, for generations and centuries.
If India’s role on the global stage has continued to grow, as even a middle-level American official acknowledged recently, it owes to such initiatives which were humane and readily identified with Gandhi’s ideals and the post-colonial world’s perception of India. The official, Nancy Izzo Jackson, also said that India’s presidency of the G20 will help the country intensify its growth in every sphere.
In doing so, New Delhi should not be – and it is not – unaware of the limitations, much of them imposed by the existing and emerging global conditions. In turn, these are often dictated by nations that are steeped in a war-like mind-set and seem to be missing it, too, having supposedly left them all behind decades back, with the Second World War.
Message for who
US President Joe Biden’s unannounced visit to Kyiv, if it was intended to send out a message to Russia, just before the war entered the second year, should be seen also as a message of solidarity with Ukraine, a morale-booster, even more. The message was this: ‘You fight the war, and we will continue to stock you with weapons of choice.’ It is unlike the previous wars, say, the two Great Wars and also the Vietnam and Afghan-Iraq Wars that the US has fought in the past decades.
In Iraq, for instance, the US fought what came to be known as the ‘fly-by-wire’ war. Afghanistan, post-9/11, was a different kettle, and there was something personal to every American. Putting American boots on the ground was not only necessary but also desirable, a national duty. In Ukraine, not just the US, but its European allies in NATO, too, is not ready to put their men at risk of war – and for really genuine and sensible reasons, thank god.
It is another matter that more nations and more men and weapons could well have turned it into the much-speculated ‘third world war’, which no nation, not certainly Western Europe, wants. Yet, none of them is willing to consider and ready to talk about ending the miseries of war that has been wrought on innocent Ukraine, and their productive nation.
Even if war is going to end tonight, it is going to take the nation decades to return to a semblance of its past self – that is assuming that the West is ready to pump in all those billions and trillions of dollars, required for reconstruction – and as grant. Already, there is no knowing if all those weapons are gratis from Uncle Sam and the rest, or if Ukraine would have to pay it all back through future generations.
Not that Russia and China are helping matters, by seeking to deepen their bilateral ties at this critical hour in global history. The visit by Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official, to Moscow and his meeting with President Putin, has not gone down well with the West, and naturally so. Already, there is speculation that China may begin supplying weapons to Russia, and some Western powers have indicated further sanctions on Beijing, if it happens.
For his part, Putin has openly said that he would be happy to receive Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Kremlin, after he himself had visited China for the Winter Olympics last year, just on the eve of commencing the bombing of Ukraine. The speculation at the time was if Putin had taken Xi into confidence, and if so, what China’s reaction was. Alternatively, if Putin had not mentioned the imminence of war to Xi, what that relation was worth.
Putin’s decision to call off the halting nuclear weapons talks with the US too has not gone down well with Washington, though most of the latter’s allies are silent over the issue as if it did not concern them. With this, the US has also sought to play up the nuclear bogey by declaring that only because of the timely intervention of India and China, Putin did not launch a nuclear war, as feared, last year. Again, no nation has responded.
The priority of individual nations and their geographical position vis-à-vis the immediate war zone became visible at the Modi-Scholz interaction in India. Modi reiterated that India is willing to join ‘any peace process’ to solve the Ukraine crisis, and also touched upon long-standing issues like UN reforms and cross-border terrorism. Scholz focussed mainly on the war, as was to be expected, and said it’s important to state clearly where UN members stand on the Ukraine issue. Of interest to India, he said, he would ‘personally make sure’ the fast completion of negotiations on the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
This contrasts with the so-called Chinese initiative for ending the war, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wanting to meet Xi Jinping, to discuss the proposal. Zelenskyy also appealed to Beijing not to supply weapons to Russia, after the US claimed that China was planning to do so – which Beijing denied very promptly. It was the second or third time that the US was floating the idea since the commencement of the war.
The Russian foreign ministry too has welcomed the Chinese proposals. The US President Joe Biden sought to pooh-pooh the Chinese proposal, saying: “Putin is applauding it, so how could it be any good.” It is this kind of American reaction that raises doubts, if not outright suspicions, about war-weariness setting in, in Ukraine, and that being the reason for Zelenskyy’s immediate call to meet Xi on the Chinese proposal.
The reasons are not far to seek. Going beyond calls for peace talks and respect for national sovereignty, the 12-point Chinese proposal does not even specifically say that Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Instead, it only condemns the unilateral western sanctions (against Russia) without naming any. Likewise, Beijing itself is yet to respond to Zelenskyy’s proposal for a summit with Xi, or otherwise react to the positive indicators from the two warring nations, to its peace proposals.
For now, the Chinese proposals and also the ready willingness of the two warring nations to give it a serious thought through summit meetings with Xi is the only silver-lining. If the US-led West wants the war to end, and yet does not want China to take the credit (and Xi qualifying for a Nobel Peace prize?), then they will have to come up with their own initiatives.
Unfortunately, unlike Zelenskyy’s faith in Xi and China, however limited it be, Putin’s trust in the West, including his immediate West European neighbours, is almost non-existent. Both nations trust India, yes, though Zelenskyy’s appeal to India has always been for unilateral support, and not for trying its hand at peace-making.
In talks with the German Chancellor, Prime Minister Modi too has indicated India’s willingness to join hands with other nations, in a peace-bid, not to try its hands on its own – hoping that the West, apart from the warning two, would endorse the initiative, per se, and the contents thereof, even if with variations. The chances are that the world would wait for the Chinese initiative to take some shape – win or lose – before trying out anything new.
India should be ready there with its own set of proposals, learning from the possible Chinese failures, if there to be any. But unlike China, India can hope for greater acceptance by not only Russia and Ukraine but also by most, if not all Western powers. If nothing else, they would have to look for a middle-path if Zelenskyy is keen on peace, and not war, as his current overtures to China indicate.
– N.Sathiya Moorthy is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator. He can be contacted on email@example.com. This article was originally featured on Firstpost
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