Last week, by unusual coincidence, both the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and British foreign secretary Liz Truss were in New Delhi on the same day. On opposing sides of the Ukraine crisis, they were both here to convey their differing perceptions to the government.
The Ukraine conflict has triggered tensions on an unprecedented scale between Russia and the West. India’s stand, as the world’s largest democracy, has become critical for both sides in the situation. What proposals did they bring with them? Lavrov made a straightforward offer: Acquire oil and weapons from us at a reduced price. Although it is not known if he evoked traditional ties between the two countries, it is a major factor in relations even today. It was clearly keeping this in mind that Lavrov sought India’s role in intervening in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
What was Truss’ reaction to this? She weighed in on the side of democracy and prosperity. This dream of democracy was a key factor in the fall of the Berlin Wall in1989, and the subsequent disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union in a matter of a few months.
People across the world brought into this dream of the spread of democracy, living as many of them did in harsh conditions at the time. In 1990, 36% of the global population was living in abject poverty. It dropped to 10% during the next 25 years. It was predicted that by 2030, no one on the planet would be classified as very impoverished. No one could have predicted that a pandemic would one day put paid to many lofty ideals and the allure of a capitalism-inspired democratic system would be revealed to have many flaws.
According to the United Nations University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research, Covid-19 has pushed 8% of the world’s population back into poverty. The population of poorer countries has borne the brunt of the damage wreaked by the pandemic.
What, it must be asked, were the leaders of the world’s wealthy nations doing in the face of enormous suffering by the people of poor and developing countries? The rich shut down their land and air routes. The world saw the dream of the global village dissipate quickly. No one thought that the great dream held out by the capitalist system would be blown away in just 30 or so years. The powers that be in the West, who had handled poor and developing countries with such disdain and indifference, were also quick to blame the East by dubbing the virus, the Chinese virus. The main instigator of this was none other than the then United States (US) President, Donald Trump.
Even before Covid-19, countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Libya and Syria suffered massive losses of people and resources through exploitation and violence by rich nations over the last three decades. Civil wars were incited in some countries like Iraq. According to the United Nations estimate, 8.40 million people were relocated globally by the middle of 2021 and civil strife, terrorism and poverty were among the main causes.
As a result, whether Russia attacked Syria, Crimea, or Ukraine, western countries were powerless to intervene. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, believing the hollow assurances of the West, led his country down a path of doom. Millions of Ukrainians have had to relocate to foreign countries and seek asylum, leaving behind their homes and loved ones.
Now that the western countries’ claims have been exposed, it’s time to put them in their place. It’s no surprise that when Truss tried to advise India on March 31 on what course of action it should take, external affairs minister S Jaishankar responded appropriately by telling her that European countries imported 15% more oil and gas from Russia in March than the previous month. Earlier, Jaishankar responded in no uncertain terms to China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, saying that India would not be pressured.
This is the New India. Since the start of the war, important leaders from numerous countries have visited New Delhi, including the prime minister of Japan, the US security adviser’s deputy and the Greek foreign minister. Many more high-profile visits are expected in the following days. India is, without a doubt, a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Just as Lavrov sought India’s mediation between Ukraine and Russia, Ukraine’s foreign minister has already stated that only Prime Minister Narendra Modi can bring about a truce. This is an indication of how powerful a world leader Modi has become in just seven years.
The US, these days, is on a slippery slope, China has been weakened by the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict has wreaked havoc on Europe. This is the most suitable moment for India to make its voice and goals heard across the world.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan The views expressed are personal