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Ukraine war unsettles multilateralism and Western binary, but it's advantage India

Russia is certainly the villain in the ballrooms and high tables of international diplomacy now. Take the three major summits of world leaders that Asia hosted in the past 10 days

November 24, 2022 / 02:52 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

The war in Ukraine has been stressing the global order, testing its resilience to adapt to newer challenges that the conflict poses to existing multilateral formats, energy, and food security.

It remains the ultimate test to the Western binary that either you are with us or against us on this, which is totally untenable to countries such as India.

Russia is certainly the villain in the ballrooms and high tables of international diplomacy now. Take the three major summits of world leaders that Asia hosted in the past 10 days. So palpable was the angst among the Western countries as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and response to it roiled the global economy, and left a trail of protests across countries in Europe over rising costs and inflation. Unfortunately, the way Russia has been singled out by the West is not making much of a difference to the actual situation on the ground for many countries around the world.

Though Russia has been put under a slew of sanctions, Moscow is far from crumbling, but both intended and unintended consequences of rigid positions are spelling troubles for everyone. Russia’s current economy seems to have been helped by a bumper grain harvest this year. Russia has produced more than 150 million tonnes of foodgrain in 2022, enabling it enough to send some to Africa free of charge to score some diplomatic brownie points.

But the noises from the West in multilateral formats continue to be monochromatic. At the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Bangkok, Thailand ended with a declaration, which is like a carbon copy of the United Nations resolution deploring “in the strongest terms” Russian ‘aggression’ against Ukraine, while factoring differing views. The fact is that such statements of rebuke are not making any actual difference.

Most APEC countries are decelerating and at least one-third of the world is gearing up to face a recession.

The three key pillars of global growth — the United States, China, and Europe — are slowing down simultaneously, and that is hitting the exports of emerging markets. When it comes to Ukraine and Russia, the declaration from the Group of 20 (G20) leaders' summit in Bali, Indonesia that had preceded the APEC meet had similar references. It's true that neither G20 nor APEC is a forum to bring a closure to any security-related issues.

However, all the summits witnessed member countries discussing issues related to Ukraine, and outcome of which gives little to cheer about. The APEC joint missive was very forthcoming in summarising one reality: “Recognising that APEC is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy”.

Russia is a member of both G20 and APEC, two very important global forums. Together, the G20 members represent 85 percent of global GDP, 75 percent of international trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. Set up to promote economic integration, APEC's members account for 38 percent of the global population, and 62 percent of gross domestic product, and 48 percent of trade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stayed away from the summits. First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov is representing him at APEC. Russia was represented in the G20 summit by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

But the continuing intransigence on the part of the West when it comes to lecturing countries who are dependent on energy-exports continues. The moot question here is that Europe still gets more Russian energy than New Delhi would perhaps ever buy from Moscow. By various estimates, Europe’s seaborne imports of crude for Europe were more than two times that of India. Countries such as India where 60 million people visit petrol bunks every day have very little option but to keep in mind its national interest.

The proposed US-led price cap on crude could bring in further turbulence to the energy market. Though the details of the price cap are awaited, it aims at avoiding a supply shock while ensuring a dent in energy revenue for Russia.

The entire affair already looks messy. Russia has warned that it won’t sell to countries that implement the cap, but instead redirect supply to “market-oriented partners”, or reduce production.

While it remains in everybody’s interest to ensure diplomacy takes centre stage, the way the response to the Ukraine conflict is unfolding calls for a very differentiated approach from India.
Jayanth Jacob is a foreign policy commentator who covered the ministry of external affairs for more than two decades. Twitter: @jayanthjacob.
first published: Nov 24, 2022 01:47 pm