US thinktanks have spent much of their time since Russia invaded Ukraine on considering factors influencing the war and how it might end it to the satisfaction of Washington and the West. There have been reports and dialogues on whether a ceasefire with the two sides holding onto respective territory would be a good start. While a cessation in hostilities, currently not in sight, is welcome, there is an increasing realisation that the war needs to conclude with Ukraine regaining a good measure of its lost land and this might mean an escalation of the fighting. The term is loaded as escalation might entail risks of Russia’s not-so-veiled threats to use nuclear weapons, possibly against an East European nation aiding Ukraine. There may be no alternative but to sufficiently escalate the war in order to bring home to Russia that the conflict is unwinnable. As of now, hamstrung by lack of adequate air power, Ukrainian forces are making painfully slow progress with winter approaching fast. This will mean a different and difficult battle of attrition in the months ahead and the view among a large section of US experts is that there is a need to keep Russian leader Vladimir Putin under pressure. This is where the recent visit of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un to Russia is being viewed from varying perspectives. One view is that Kim’s bromance with Putin poses fresh risks to the US and its allies, Japan and South Korea, if North Korea gets military upgrades symbolised by the military drones he took back with him. But on the other hand, a situation where Kim was offering military supplies to Russia showed how tough the situation was for Moscow. The hard-headed view is that while Russia is holding up in the face of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, it cannot hope to benefit from a prolonged status quo even if it can call up more reservists. The alignment of geopolitical forces ahead of the G20 summit in New Delhi helped Putin get away with an indirect criticism of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. This may not always be the case and the US is likely to do all it can to step up support to Ukraine and scale up the stakes, subjecting Putin’s policies to greater stress. The time when the Biden administration held back military assistance to Ukraine in the hope of getting Russia to hold off is clearly over. Not only is the war in Ukraine not ending, it is likely to become more contested in the months ahead even if there is an apparent slowdown in winter.
A Surprise Falls Flat
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s “surprise” visit to a function in Patna to commemorate Sangh Parivar icon Deendayal Upadhyaya provided more grist to the gossip mill about whether the leader has a few tricks up his sleeve. While the visit was the topic of discussion of several TV debates, there is no likelihood of his return to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). BJP leaders have ruled out the return of their former ally. This time, former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi really rubbed it in, remarking that Kumar would not be let in even if he begged to be allowed into NDA. The fact is that Kumar has well and truly burnt his bridges with BJP and the party bosses also firmly believe his popularity has slid sharply. These “visits”, it is felt, are intended to signal to the INDIA alliance that he enjoys acceptability on the other side of the fence too. It is a poorly kept secret that the JD(U) leader has felt that he has not been accorded sufficient heft and space in the opposition alliance as befits his seniority and stature. He was not exactly enthused over the INDIA nomenclature and then suggestions that he could be named convenor of the opposition alliance ran aground with no takers among other anti-NDA parties.
Pawar Strikes a Pose with Adani
NCP supremo Sharad Pawar has done it again. His presence at an Adani Group function recently, where he inaugurated a new plant, came at a time when ally Congress continues to target the business entity and its head Gautam Adani for being a “crony” of the BJP government. Quite unmindful of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s tirade against the Adani Group and allegations contained in shortseller Hindenburg’s report, Pawar went ahead with his visit. Though NCP leaders later sought to fend off questions about the visit by saying that Pawar had gone to Sanand for the inauguration of a project and this should not be “mixed up” with the opposition alliance INDIA’s position on the group. But the fact remains that Pawar does not seem to share Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of the Adani Group, having noted a few months ago that industrial houses should not be subjected to heedless attacks that ignored their role in building India’s economy.
The Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, in custody over a case of alleged corruption in a skilling programme when he was in office, awaits relief from the Supreme Court after his plea to quash the case was rejected by the high court. It might not be easy to persuade the court to outright quash the case without a judicial process but the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) hopes he might be enlarged on bail soon. TDP feels the case against Naidu is not washing with public opinion and the categoric statements of a former official of the private firm, which partnered the programme, exonerating the leader have helped establish the arrest as vindictive. Further, TDP leaders argue that the expectation that the party cadre would be demoralised has not come to pass as Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh has stepped up and is taking on the YSRCP government. And if the idea was to deter BJP from considering an alliance with TDP in the light of the corruption allegations, the calculation may not have worked out either. Naidu may well receive a big reception whenever he receives relief from the court.
China ‘Lights’ the Way
A dramatic slowdown in domestic demand in China has caused an unexpected fallout in some sectors of the retail and supply market in India. Many components of the light industry continue to be imported from China and have seen a sharp fall in their costs. This might seem like a good thing for Indian businesses except that manufacturers are finding that the contracted rates have fallen further by the time components reach India. This has led to their clients, often big firms in the retail business for items like LEDs, demanding a further reduction in rates at which the finished products are supplied. It seems even the higher duties imposed by the government on imports are not helping as selling costs of components continue to plummet in China.