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Ukraine: Opportunities for India in a new world order

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Today is the 61st day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. From all accounts, the world seems helpless when it comes to dealing with a situation in which an aggressor army is raping women, kidnapping, and reportedly trafficking people and killing minors. Whatever happened to the global village?

The question is: For how long will the world’s powerful and wealthy countries confine themselves to paying only lip service to human rights and rules of international law? To deter any external intervention in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that any such effort could trigger a nuclear war. To make sure he is taken seriously, he has even activated the nuclear command. Are we standing at the precipice of World War III? Even if that does not come to pass, the world will never be the same again.

The main reason for this paradigm shift in international equations is that Europe is witnessing an unprecedented mobilisation against Russia. The continent’s concerns have multiple dimensions.

A prominent German leader said, soon after the war began, that so far his country had been importing security from America, energy from Russia and essential goods from China. All this appears to be falling apart literally overnight. Not just Germany, Afro-Asian countries, along with other European countries are now being forced to adopt alternative measures. The availability of Russian oil at cheap prices is indeed keeping Putin’s spirits high. But strenuous diplomatic measures are being used to corner him. In the coming days, Russian oil and other products are likely to suffer a hit.

Let us look at developments so far. Around 600 major international brands have deserted the Russian market; top shipping companies are staying away from the country. Newsprint is one of the products that has suffered the maximum impact. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of paper and the price of newsprint has risen by as much as 175% due to supply cuts. Newspapers across the world may be forced to reduce pages and increase prices in the coming days. Not only this, some companies used to import their entire steel, crude oil requirements and edible oil from Ukraine; this has now been disrupted. A world economy battered by the pandemic is going into a further tailspin.

With fears of the war spreading beyond Ukraine’s borders, many countries have been compelled to raise their defence budgets by as much as 200%. They will be forced to drastically cut other expenses for the purchase of defence products. Its adverse impact will be most seen in programmes for poverty alleviation, prevention of deadly diseases, and environmental degradation. The last three decades were a time of relative peace, prosperity and progress, but this brazen invasion of a sovereign country has put paid to all that.

Sociologists are anxious that fear, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation will lead to widespread anarchy. Remember, when Russia bombed Syria, militia groups began knocking at the gates of Europe, fuelling the risk of social unrest. Uncertainty and fear play a big role in fanning Right-wing ideologies. The fundamentalists may not win elections in these countries, but the fires of fanaticism cannot be stopped from spreading.

For India, these circumstances have brought both challenges and opportunities. Amid all this drama, there are signs that along with Russia, China, too, is feeling isolated. The United States and the West were already apprehensive, indeed fearful, of Beijing’s expanding power. The cooperation that Moscow is getting from Beijing has only emboldened Putin. China, too, may have to face restrictions or boycotts in the coming days. In such a situation, India can emerge as a viable alternative. The results of last week’s talks between British Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson and PM Narendra Modi are testimony to this.

Some positive indicators are already visible.

For instance, this year, farmers in India didn’t have to face too many procurement problems. Compared to previous years, private traders are buying more wheat from farmers at better prices. Wheat purchases by private traders in Punjab have been the highest in eight years.

In view of rising prices across the world, private traders are exploring opportunities to export food grains. Indian pharmaceutical companies have established contact with Europe. If the theatre of war widens, many countries will look for new sources for various drugs and medical equipment.

Overdependence on China has hit many sectors. Several European nations will soon be faced with a shortage of skilled craftsmen and engineers as proposals to set up steel, textiles and other industrial units in Europe have gathered momentum. India has the largest number of graduates in the world, including engineers and doctors. The days ahead could witness the coming of age of Indian skills and enterprise.

It can only be hoped that New Delhi remains both aware and alert in the days to come. This could be the time when India takes its rightful place in a new world order.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan 

The views expressed are personal

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