Modi tells Putin at Kremlin ‘war cannot solve problems’

Published July 9, 2024
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin awards India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 9. — Reuters
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin awards India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 9. — Reuters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday told President Vladimir Putin that “war cannot solve problems” and urged “peace through dialogue” on a trip to Moscow more than two years into the Ukraine offensive.

Modi touched down in Moscow as tensions flared in Europe, following a massive Russian missile barrage in Ukraine that Kyiv said hit a children’s hospital in the capital.

During his first meeting with Putin in Russia since the Kremlin launched its campaign in Ukraine, Modi said the conflict was discussed “openly and in detail”.

“When innocent children are murdered, one sees them die, the heart pains and that pain is unbearable,” Modi told Putin in comments in Hindi.

The Indian premier arrived in Moscow on Monday hours after strikes that hit cities across Ukraine killed at least 38 people.

“I know that war cannot solve problems, solutions and peace talks can’t succeed among bombs, guns, and bullets,” the Indian leader added.

“And we need to find a way to peace through dialogue,” he said.

On Monday evening, Modi was pictured hugging Putin at his country residence, drawing condemnation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

He wrote on social media: “It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day.”

At the Kremlin, Putin hailed India and Russia’s “very long-standing friendship” and said they now enjoy a “specially privileged, strategic partnership”.

Putin thanked Modi for “the attention you pay to the most urgent problems” and said, “you are trying to find some ways to solve the Ukrainian crisis, too, of course primarily by peaceful means”.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told Russian news agencies that Modi “is not claiming to offer mediation efforts”.

Modi wrote on X that the talks were “productive” on “ways to diversify India-Russia cooperation in sectors such as trade, commerce, security, agriculture, technology and innovation”.

Afterwards, Putin decorated Modi with the country’s top medal for civilians, the Order of St Andrew the Apostle the First Called, and the leaders embraced again.

Russia is a vital supplier of cut-price oil and weapons to India, but Moscow’s isolation from the West and growing ties with Beijing have impacted its partnership with New Delhi.

Modi is courting closer Western security ties after being returned to power last month as leader of the world’s most populous country.

Western powers have in recent years also cultivated stronger relations with India as a hedge against China and its growing influence across the Asia-Pacific region while pressuring New Delhi to distance itself from Russia.

The US on Monday urged Modi to make clear to Putin that “any resolution to the conflict in Ukraine must … be one that respects the UN Charter with respect to Ukraine’s territorial integrity”.

Modi last visited Russia in 2019 and hosted Putin in the Indian capital two years later, weeks before Russia began its offensive against Ukraine.

India has largely shied away from explicit condemnation of Russia ever since and abstained on United Nations resolutions targeting the Kremlin.

Arms and oil

But Russia’s fight with Ukraine has also had a human cost for India.

New Delhi said in February it was pushing Moscow to return several of its citizens who had signed up for “support jobs” with the Russian military, following reports some had been killed after being forced to fight in Ukraine. Putin and Modi did not comment publicly on this.

New Delhi and Russia have maintained close links since the Cold War, which saw the Kremlin become a key arms provider to the country.

But Ukraine has stretched Russia’s weapons supplies thin, pushing India to look for other sources for arms — including growing its own defence industry.

Russia’s share of Indian imports of arms has shrunk considerably in recent years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

At the same time, India has become a major purchaser of Russian crude, providing a much-needed export market for Russia after it was dropped by traditional buyers in Europe.

That has dramatically reconfigured their economic ties, with India saving itself billions of dollars while bolstering Moscow’s war coffers.

India’s month-on-month imports of Russian crude “increased by eight per cent in May, to the highest levels since July 2023”, according to commodity tracking data compiled by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

But this has also resulted in India’s trade deficit with Russia rising to a little over $57 billion in the past financial year.

From Russia, Modi will travel to Vienna for the first visit to the Austrian capital by an Indian leader since Indira Gandhi in 1983.

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