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Today is the 61st day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Don’t you think we are living in a helpless world? A strong neighbour is plundering a country weaker than itself, its soldiers are raping women and minors, a large number of people are allegedly being kidnapped and sold, even as the rulers of the so-called ‘Global Village’ look on cluelessly.

The question is: For how long will the powerful countries of the world continue to only pay lip service? To thwart outside forces, Putin has threatened that any interference in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war. To underline that the threat is serious, he has even activated the nuclear command. Are we standing on the precipice of World War Three? Even if there isn’t another World War, the world will no longer be the same.

The biggest reason for such an observation is that Europe is witnessing unprecedented mobilisation against Russia. The continent’s concerns have multiple dimensions to them. A prominent German leader said soon after the war began that so far they had been importing security from America, energy from Russia and essential goods from China. It all appeared to be falling apart in one fell swoop. Not just Germany, African and Asian countries, along with other European countries are now being forced to adopt alternative measures. It is true that the availability of Russian oil at cheap prices is keeping Putin’s spirits high, but diplomatic measures are being used to corner him. In the coming days, Russian oil and other products are also likely to be reined in.

Let me illustrate this with an example. Not only have 600 major international brands deserted Soviet markets, even the top shipping companies are shying away from it. Newsprint is one of the products that has felt a massive impact. Russia is the largest exporter of paper and the price of newsprint has risen by up to 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 and crude oil requirements besides palm oil from Ukraine, which have been disrupted. The signs of an economic downturn are there for everybody to see.

With this, 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 purchase of defence products. Its impact will be seen on programmes for poverty alleviation, prevention of deadly diseases and environmental degradation. The last three decades were a time of ‘peace, prosperity and progress’ but this brazen attack may make it a distant memory.

Sociologists are anxious that fear, hunger, poverty and environmental apathy will lead to widespread anarchy. When Russia bombed Syria, militia groups began knocking at the gates of Europe, fuelling the risk of social unrest.The fundamentalists may not win elections in these countries, but no one can stop the fires of fanaticism from spreading. For India, these circumstances have brought in both challenges and opportunities. Amid all this drama, there are signs that along with Russia, China, too, is feeling isolated. America and the West were already apprehensive of Beijing’s expanding power. The cooperation that Russia is getting from China has only emboldened Moscow. But China, too, may have to face restrictions 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 Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are a testimony to this.

Domestically, some positive indicators are beginning to emerge. For instance, this year farmers didn’t have to face too many procurement hassles. Compared with previous years, private traders are buying more wheat from farmers at better prices. Already, 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 also established contact with Europe. The outbreak of war may compel these countries to look for all kinds of drugs and medicines. Anyway, there is a lull in the market owing to the overdependence on China. Not just this, most European nations will soon grapple 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.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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