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Tuesday July 23, 2024

Modi slams Putin over war, says his 'heart bleeds' for children dying in Ukraine

"Solutions are not possible on the battleground. Amidst guns, bullets and bombs, peace talks cannot be successful," Indian PM says

By Reuters
July 09, 2024
Russias President Vladimir Putin talks to Indias Prime Minister Narendra Modi before awarding him the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia July 9, 2024.— Reuters
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi before awarding him the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia July 9, 2024.— Reuters

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the death of innocent children was painful and terrifying, a day after a lethal strike on a children's hospital in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

The visiting Indian leader used emotive language to deliver an implicit rebuke to Putin at a summit intended to underscore the deepening partnership between their two countries.

Winding up his two-day trip, the two sides set out nine key areas for closer cooperation, ranging from nuclear energy to medicine, and said they aimed to boost bilateral trade by more than half to hit $100 billion by 2030.

But given that Putin has rarely been publicly criticised face-to-face over the war in Ukraine by the leader of a country that Russia sees as a friend, Modi's televised comments were striking.

"Whether it is war, conflict or a terrorist attack, any person who believes in humanity is pained when there is loss of lives," Modi said.

"But even in that, when innocent children are killed, the heart bleeds and that pain is very terrifying."

Ukraine says it has recovered fragments of a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile at the Kyiv children's hospital which was hit on Monday during a wave of Russian attacks that killed 44 Ukrainians, including four children, across the country.

At the hospital itself, two adults were killed and Interfax Ukraine said eight children were among about 50 people wounded.

Russia said, without providing evidence, that it was a Ukrainian anti-missile system that struck the hospital.

Modi appeared to criticise Russia once before over its actions in Ukraine when he told Putin in September 2022 that "today's era is not an era of war". Putin said at that time he understood Modi's concerns.

India, however, has not condemned Russia's invasion and has taken the opportunity to buy record amounts of discounted Russian oil as sanctions have decimated Moscow's trade with the West.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, accompanying Modi on the trip, said India wanted to further strengthen energy ties and could seek deals with Rosneft ROSN.MM and other leading Russian oil firms. The two countries said they were also exploring an increase in Russian coal sales to India.

In joint statements, they further outlined plans for closer cooperation in developing the Northern Sea Route through Arctic waters and for working together in space exploration, among other areas.

Special partnership

For Russia, India has become an increasingly important partner, both economically and diplomatically, as Moscow seeks to demonstrate that Western attempts to isolate it over the war in Ukraine have failed.

Putin, speaking before Modi, said their two countries enjoyed a "particularly privileged strategic partnership".

"I thank you for the attention you are paying to the most acute problems including trying to find ways to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, above all by peaceful means, of course," he said.

Modi told him: "Solutions are not possible on the battleground. Amidst guns, bullets and bombs, peace talks cannot be successful. We have to find the path to peace only through talks."

Putin did not visibly react to Modi's remarks and it was not clear if they had influenced the summit's course. The Kremlin said an expected round of delegation-level talks would not take place as the two leaders had covered the agenda in full.

Sensitive timing

The timing of the Ukrainian hospital incident was embarrassing for Modi, just as he began his visit on Monday.

As Modi shared his image hugging Putin on social media, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it was a "huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world's largest democracy hug the world's bloodiest criminal in Moscow on such a day".

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it had raised concerns with India about its relationship with Russia. Separately, President Joe Biden called the latest attacks on Ukraine "a horrific reminder of Russia's brutality".

Russia said it struck military targets and the Kremlin repeated its insistence that Russia does not target civilians.

Swasti Rao, Eurasia expert at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses think-tank in New Delhi, said Modi's stance was aimed at projecting India as a credible mediator between Russia and Ukraine and "trying to reinstate the international community's faith in India as a credible actor" which opposed violence.

It was also meant to remind Moscow, Rao said, that "at the end of the day we are a valuable partner, you're a valuable partner, but then we also stand by the U.N. Charter and international law".