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As India joins China to separate from Russia, Putin warns of escalation

Highlighting Russia’s growing isolation on the world stage, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Vladimir Putin on Friday that it was not the time for war – even as the Russian President threatened to climb scaled the brutality of his campaign in Ukraine.

Modi’s televised advice at a regional summit in Uzbekistan came just a day after Putin admitted that Xi Jinping, China’s leader, had “questions and concerns” about the conflict. war.

Taken together, the departure of the heads of the world’s two most populous countries from Putin – both countries play a key role in keeping Russia’s economy alive against Western sanctions – has made pierced the Kremlin’s message that Russia was far from a global nation.

“I know that today there is no war,” Modi told Putin at the start of the meeting, describing global challenges such as the food and energy crisis that are especially affecting developing countries. develop. “Today we will have the opportunity to discuss how we can move forward on the path of peace.”

The implicit criticisms of Mr. Putin highlight that he is now facing perhaps the most challenging moment in recent months, suffering not only diplomatic setbacks but also retreat on the battlefield and raised questions at home about how he had waged the war.

Putin’s next steps, however, remain a mystery, and Western officials believe he could still drastically escalate the intensity of Russia’s offensive in the face of further setbacks.

During Friday’s press conference after the Asian leaders summit, Putin described recent Russian cruise missile attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as “an attack on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure”. warning” could lead to an even more dangerous campaign.

At the same time – seemingly mindful of the instability between key partners such as China and India – Mr. Putin asserted that he was ready for negotiations without stating any preconditions and that his war goals did not necessarily extend to all of Ukraine. On Friday, he made no mention of the broader goals of “demilitarization” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine that he declared at the start of the war in February – terms widely accepted. seen as when Mr. Putin announced his intention to gain political control over the entire country.

He said that the “main goal” of his invasion was limited to capturing the Donbas – an area in eastern Ukraine that Russia has recognized as two independent Kremlin-backed sub-districts but which Ukraine still controls. important cities and towns.

However, Putin claimed that Ukraine was trying to carry out “terrorist acts” inside Russia and that Moscow was ready to retaliate.

“We actually reacted quite limitedly, but that’s the moment,” Putin said. “If the situation continues to develop in this way, the answer will be more serious.”

Ukraine has admitted attacks on military targets on the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 violate international law, but the Kyiv government says it does not attack civilians.

Inside Ukraine, the consequences of Russia’s war were severe. A cruise missile launch on Wednesday damaged a dam in the southern Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih and raised fears of flooding. In the northeastern city of Izium, which Ukrainian forces liberated in recent days, authorities said they had found a mass grave and 445 fresh individual graves.

An adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Friday that Russian forces had brought “pervasive terror, violence, torture and mass murder” to the territory they occupied. in Ukraine, and he ruled out negotiating a compromise to end the war.

“We have no right to leave people alone with the Devil,” said Mr. Podolyak above Twitter. “’Conflict resolution’ is extremely simple. Immediately withdraw troops from the entire territory of Ukraine”.

However, Mr. Putin has repeatedly warned that the Russian offensive could still increase – a threat now weighing heavily on US officials, who believe Mr. Putin can increase the size of Russian forces deployed. deploy to Ukraine or possibly attack NATO countries that supply Ukraine with weapons. Officials also say that Russia could create a new thrust in the east or south of Ukraine, or step up a campaign against the Ukrainian leadership.

However, expanding combat capabilities in war will require Putin to build up his army. So far, Mr. Putin has not been ready to announce a full-blown military mobilization, and many US officials believe that is off the table because of domestic political implications. However, former US officials say Mr Putin could take a smaller, less politically destabilizing step: call up more reservists and bring veterans back into service.

“We are not fighting with our entire army,” Putin said on Friday, insisting that his military plans for the invasion need no “adjustment”.

“The main goal is to liberate the entire territory of the Donbas,” Putin said. “This work continues despite the counter-attacks of the Ukrainian army. The General Staff considers some things to be important, some minor things, but the main task remains unchanged and is underway.

But when he sat down with Indian Prime Minister Modi, Mr. Putin was noticeably more serious. Along with China, India emerged as an important financier for Moscow during the war, including buying Russian energy at a discount. Both countries have also bailed out Putin at the United Nations, abstaining from criticism of Russia’s aggression.

India has ignored calls from the US and Europe not to buy Russian oil, considering it essential to buy discounted Russian crude at a time of rising food and fuel prices – even if the diplomat Ukraine’s leader said “the price reduction must be paid with the blood of the Ukrainian people. “

India’s stable relationship with Moscow long before it expanded its relationship with the United States; Russia remains the main source of cheaper weapons for the Indian military.

So when Modi told Mr Putin on camera on Friday that “in this day and age there is no war”, it was a signal that a country the Kremlin considers friendly is now trying to create space. way. Putin told the Indian leader that it was Ukraine’s fault that the war continued because Kyiv did not sue for peace, but he acknowledged Modi’s displeasure.

“I know your stance on the conflict in Ukraine, your concerns that you have constantly expressed. We will do our best to prevent this as soon as possible,” Putin said. “Unfortunately, the opposition, the leader of Ukraine, has announced it has abandoned the negotiation process.”

During his press conference, Putin made another skewed admission that the Chinese government is also unhappy about the war in Ukraine – according to analysts, in part due to the turmoil that has led to energy markets. Global food and food production has threatened China’s economic growth.

“There are also problems related to the crisis,” Putin told reporters, describing his meeting with Xi the previous day. “These issues were also discussed in a good sense, but in a principled manner.”

Russia’s state media often report on the differences that emerged at the Uzbekistan summit, presenting Putin’s meetings with a number of Asian leaders as evidence of Western efforts. The attempt to isolate Russia failed.

Putin on Friday also sat down with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and said that Turkey would soon pay in Russian rubles for a quarter of the natural gas it buys from Russia – a The move will help Russia further reduce its dependence. against the US dollar and its exposure to US sanctions.

But some comments that the summit might not have gone as well as hoped for Mr. Putin appeared on a Russian talk show Friday on the state-run Rossiya channel, when a The newspaper’s columnist noted that Beijing “didn’t particularly help us” in getting things done. Western sanctions seem to be pushing back Russia’s influence in Central Asia. It is evidence that some criticism of Russian policy has appeared more frequently on Russian television.

“There’s some kind of complicated game going on here,” said columnist Maksim Yusin, referring to China’s potential level of support for Russia. “I don’t think we should put our hopes up so we won’t be severely disappointed.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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