Yesterday, President Putin’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping made news for two reasons. First, there was Putin’s own statement that “we understand your questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine which clearly suggested China does have some concerns. The second reason the meeting made news wasn’t what Xi Jinping said, it was what he didn’t say.

While Chinese officials have offered some lip service in recent months to Russia’s message that the war in Ukraine was the West’s fault, Mr. Xi did not repeat any of those lines in his televised comments. He carefully avoided offering any endorsement of specific Russian policies, instead offering generalities about China’s and Russia’s view of the world.

In fact, Xi didn’t say anything about Ukraine at all, despite the fact that Putin made a point of backing China’s police regarding Taiwan. But Xi isn’t the only foreign leader Putin is meeting with this week. Today he had a similar face to face with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And unlike Xi, Modi didn’t hold back.

“I know that today’s era is not the era for war,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Putin at a meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. “We’ve spoken to you many times on the phone before on this, that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue — these things help the world. In the coming days, we will get the chance to talk about how to move on to the road to peace, I will also get the chance to better understand your viewpoint.”

The NY Times reports the meeting was friendly and, in response, Putin blamed his inability to secure peace in Ukraine.

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…

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.

The story also notes that India is mostly reliant on Russia for arms purchases. I wonder if India’s recent skirmishes with China hasn’t put them in a position where they see Russia as the lesser of two evils. If so, I think Modi is making a mistake. Neither China nor Russia are democracies at this point so expecting either of them to value democracy seems like a fool’s errand.

Update: Sec. of State Blinken reacted to the comments from Modi today and Xi yesterday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said that the concerns of China and India about Russia’s war in Ukraine are reflective of the global apprehension about the months-long conflict, and said he believes “it increases the pressure on Russia to end the aggression.”

“I think what you’re seeing is just a manifestation of the fact that this aggression has been an aggression against the interests of people across the planet,” Blinken said at a press conference at the State Department.

Sort of bland to be honest but maybe that was on purpose. If you read Putin’s comments to Xi yesterday, he was basically stoking the us-against-the-western-world fires. So if Sec. Blinken said anything too heated that would strengthen Putin’s hand by reinforcing that idea. For now this is probably enough.

Update: Here’s Putin’s statement to Modi.

There’s also video of Modi’s statement to Putin but it lacks an English translation.

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