Russia allies China, India may have pushed Putin to escalate Ukraine war: Experts

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  • Some of Putin’s global partners expressed concern over his war in Ukraine last week.
  • Days later, Putin escalated the war by announcing military mobilization and threatening nuclear war.
  • A Russia expert told Insider that Putin may have acted out of fear of straining relations with nations such as China and India.

Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his unprovoked war on Ukraine this week, days after some of his supposed partners publicly expressed doubts about it – and the events may well be connected.

Since invading Ukraine in February, Russia has been shunned by much of the world and has faced crippling sanctions from the West. But as Russia grew more isolated, some nations have either stood by Putin or avoided directly condemning him.

Both China and India have been Russia’s powerful partners throughout the war, refused to impose sanctions and continues to buy the country’s energy products. However, leaders from both countries recently took the rare step of speaking out against the war.

During a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan on September 15, Putin acknowledged that Xi had “questions and concerns” regarding the war. The following day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized the war during a face-to-face meeting with Putin.

“I know today’s era is not an era of war and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” Modi told Putin. This was reported by Reuters.

Putin replied: “I know about your position on the conflict in Ukraine and I know about your concerns. We want all this to end as soon as possible.”

Less than a week later, on Wednesday, Putin said he was calling up 300,000 reservists to join the fight, something he had avoided doing for fear of a backlash among the Russian people. The announcement, in which he also threatened to use nuclear weapons, came after the Ukrainian military has made major advances in recent weeks.

Experts told Insider it would be weeks or months before the mobilized troops are trained, equipped and deployed. They also said that Putin’s decision to take this step now showed how badly the war was going for Russia and how desperate the Russian leader was to turn the tide.

“That Putin would do this shows how badly he feels the need right now to change the momentum that has been all in Ukraine’s favor,” Daniel Treisman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles whose work focuses on Russian politics and economics, told Insider.

In addition to fearing another potential counteroffensive from Ukraine, Putin was also likely driven by Xi’s and Modi’s concerns — and his fear of losing key partners — according to Robert English, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe .

“The evidence of criticism of allies like China or neutral states like India clearly put more pressure on him,” English told Insider. He added that leaders of those nations appear to have told Putin that they did not approve of the situation in Ukraine because it damaged their reputation on the world stage and cost them financially and politically.

English said what he suspects Putin heard was: “‘Find a way to resolve this quickly, to end this war, because we’re not going to stay by your side for another six months of this brutality.’

“He heard a message like that, so he’s trying to up the ante,” English said. “He’s trying to change the military balance the best way he can.”

If Putin has mobilized troops in an attempt to end the war as quickly as possible, as he assured Modi he would seek to do, it is not at all clear that he will succeed.

“It is an unsatisfactory and inadequate response to the motivation, manpower and material on the Ukrainian side,” English said, explaining that military aid and intelligence from the West have given Ukraine an advantage on the battlefield. “It’s not going to do the job.”

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