Did Modi ‘rebuke’ Putin with ‘not era of war’ remark? Not really

Long awaited response of Kremlin to Modi’s “rebuke” to Putin that “it is not the era of war” has finally come. Russian ambassador to India Denis Alipov said the remarks have been consistent with India’s position on the issue. “The West uses only those quotes that suit them while ignoring other parts.”

So what was the fuss about? There were celebratory cheers across western media that finally someone told Putin where he gets off. Headlines ran ‘Modi rebukes Putin’ on invading Ukraine.

Why would Prime Minister Narendra Modi have this uncharitable piece of thing to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin who is resolutely pursuing to annex the Ukrainian territories which he thinks always belonged to Russia, what was once Novorossiya. Russian-speaking majority areas have already declared “independence” from a hostile government in Kyiv. Putin is also convinced that the only credible response to increasing overtures of Kyiv to NATO, seeking to set its military bases next to Russia border, is to bomb Ukraine’s military infrastructure. Make it unusable for NATO military.

So that was between them: between Putin, Ukraine and NATO. India has traditionally stood its ground as a non ally to any war being fought in other countries. New Delhi had also been nervously watching the escalation on Ukrainian side with the US and NATO countries sending deadliest of their weapons to attack advancing Russian forces. Not to speak of simultaneous unleashing of sanctions by the US on Russian oil and gas.

All the while Modi had kept quite and no statement was issued by New Delhi favoring or condemning any side. Save for occasional call for “a peaceful, diplomatic solution.”

But sanctions did not really work. Energy-hungry mega economies like China and India became windfall beneficiaries of Russia’s oil. Some French channels stated that Russian oil supply to India increased to 530 per cent or more in just about three months of war and the sanctions. The bear became more bullish as Russia demanded from Europe that payments be made Rubles for the gas, else get ready to die in freezing winter. China showed no qualms in buying all the Russian oil. India, one time target of sanctions after the nuclear test in 1998, decided to cold-shoulder the West and the US on sanctions and went ahead buying the oil.

The US and West knew it can not tell things to China. It will not oblige. Therefore at G7 summit, all the eyes were on Modi, their old pal, an affable man. Media in EU and the US was almost paranoid about India undermining the sanctions by buying oil from Russia. At the same time, it was held that only Modi can tell Putin what to do. Putin does not listen to anyone else. Leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron had talked to Putin, but in vain.

The spectacle at G7 was difficult to miss. As is his wont, Modi hugely shaking hands and guffawed as he met Macron; and US President Joe Biden walking up to Modi  from behind and tapping on his shoulder to spare a minute and listen to him.

What they talked about was never made official, but an overawed media speculated that the US and other countries cajoled, tried to prevail upon Modi to use his good offices to instill some wisdom in Putin’s head that invading Ukraine was not a good idea.

Then comes SCO summit. The West waited and watched nervously the upcoming meeting of Russia, China and India. The leaders met, maintaining Covid distance. All eyes were on Modi-Putin meet. They did meet. Did Modi really “rebuke” Putin with his “not an era of war” remark?

No, not exactly.

His remarks were actually different and in a context. “Today’s era is not one of war, and I’ve talked to you about this on the phone several times…in the coming days, how we tread the path of peace, we will definitely have an opportunity to discuss this.” In that 8 minute long bilateral meeting, Modi also thanked Putin (and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy) in evacuating 20,000 plus Indian students safely out of war zone. What he said they had already talked about in number phone calls before the meeting.

Any journalist covering Head of the State office would know each and every word to be spoken at bilateral meeting are vetted by each side and no un-pleasantries are exchanged. Still, remarks were taken out of context by a cross-section of media and made to look as if Modi rebuked Putin, which is bunkum.