Underlining Russia’s increasing international isolation a day after China’s leader refrained from offering full-throated support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India told President Vladimir V. Putin on Friday that it is no time for war.
Speaking on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Uzbekistan, Mr. Modi said the world was grappling with major challenges, including food and energy crises that were hitting developing countries especially hard.
“I know that today’s era is not of war,” he said. “Today we will get a chance to discuss how we can move forward on the path of peace in the coming days.”
The tone of the meeting was friendly, with both leaders referring to their long shared history. Before Mr. Modi made his comments, Mr. Putin said he understood India’s concerns about the war in Ukraine.
“I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, your concerns that you constantly express. We will do our best to stop this as soon as possible,” he said. “Only, unfortunately, the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced its abandonment of the negotiation process,” he added.
Mr. Modi’s comments came a day after President Xi Jinping of China — in his first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Putin since the invasion began — struck a far more subdued tone than the Russian president, and steered clear in his public comments of any mention of Ukraine. The muted Chinese support was a sign that Russia lacks the full backing of its most powerful international partner as it tries to recover from a humiliating rout in northeastern Ukraine last week.
With Russia under Western sanctions, India and China have been pivotal financiers for Moscow, including by purchasing Russian energy at a discount — putting themselves in the middle of the messy war with Ukraine and a geopolitical standoff with the West. Both countries have also provided Mr. Putin relief against resolutions at the United Nations, with India abstaining from votes critical of Russia’s aggression even as it expressed concern about the violence.
India’s steady relationship with Moscow long predates its recent expansion of ties with the United States. Russia has remained the main source of cheaper arms for India’s military, which is increasingly stretched in a hostile region.
From the start of the war, India has sought to carve a middle path in the Ukraine crisis, attempting to maximize its leverage on the global stage without limiting its economic opportunities. It has ignored American and European entreaties not to buy Russian oil, framing its purchases of discounted Russian crude as a necessity at a time of rising food and fuel prices — even as Ukraine’s top diplomat said “the discount has to be paid by Ukrainian blood.”
All along, India has called for dialogue while avoiding challenging Russia as an aggressor, with its officials quietly insisting that their country is an intermediate power and needs to maintain ties and credibility with both Russia and the West in order to help make peace.
Maharajakrishna Rasgotra, a former Indian foreign secretary, said India had developed “special relationships” with dozens of middle-power countries that can rally around a call for peace and help Mr. Putin save face in withdrawal.
“This war in Ukraine is going to end like all the other wars of great powers in small countries have ended in the past,” Mr. Rasgotra said on Thursday. “The beginning of a retreat has started. As a friend of Russia, can we help them?”
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