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On April 21, nearly two months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that his troops had “liberated” the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The fighting in the city, however, is not over. Hundreds of Ukrainian troops, who have refused to surrender, have been holed up in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant. In a televised meeting with his Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, President Putin asked him not to storm the plant, apparently to avoid more Russian casualties, but to seal it off so that “not even a fly can get out”. Barring this plant, the city centre as well as the Sea of Azov port, are now in the hands of the Russians.
The capture of Mariupol is the first major victory of the Russian troops in the war. Mariupol is one of the biggest cities in Ukraine’s east with a pre-war population of some 500,000 people — majority of them Russian speaking. In 2014, pro-Russian rebels of Donetsk tried to take the city, but failed. The city is also the headquarters of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. Now, with most of the city under their control, the Russians have established a land bridge from the mainland to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014. It will also free up military resources for Russia to step up attacks on their next target. A day after Russia claimed victory in Mariupol, Gen. Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, said Moscow wanted to seize all of southern and eastern Ukraine. This was the first time the Russian military made its territorial objectives public. This means Russia intends to take other major cities in Ukraine’s southern coast, including Mykolaiv and Odesa, and Ukraine, with additional military assistance coming from the West, is gearing up for resistance. The war is unlikely to wind up any time soon.
Meanwhile, western countries continued to urge India to take a more critical position towards the Russian attacks on Ukraine. In an interview with The Hindu, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau urged New Delhi to join the humanitarian conference on Ukraine, seeking support on demand for Russia’s ouster from G-20. India has called for an immediate ceasefire and “respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries” without specifically condemning the Russian aggression. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated this position in talks with visiting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in New Delhi. Both leaders also agreed on a new and expanded India-U.K. defence partnership and vowed to seal an ambitious free trade agreement by the end of the year.
The Top Five
What we are reading - the best of The Hindu’s Opinion and Analysis.
- A ‘drop the pin’ event in Chinese politics | There could be headwinds as the Chinese Communist Party prepares for its 20th Congress in autumn and tracks the ‘China Dream’, writes Shyam Saran, India’s former Foreign Secretary.
- India can criticise Russia’s Ukraine invasion | It is possible for the Government to express its criticism while maintaining an independent stand on unilateral sanctions, writes Suhasini Haidar.
- The extradition saga of Julian Assange | On April 20, the Westminster Magistrates’ court in London formally issued an order to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. Srinivasan Ramani explains the extradition saga in Text and Context.
- Qamar Javed Bajwa: The General of all political seasons | The Pakistani military chief, who was seen close to Imran Khan, is now being targeted by his party for its ouster from power this month, Kallol Bhattacherjee writes in The Hindu Profiles.
- Al-Aqsa: The farthest mosque | Islam’s third holiest mosque has become a flashpoint of Israel-Palestinian tensions, writes Stanly Johny.
Sri Lanka watch
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on April 19 proposed restoring a legislation that clips the President’s executive powers, and in turn empowers the Prime Minister and Parliament, as a “short-term” solution to the country’s economic crisis. The move came at a time when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Mahinda faced unprecedented public rage and criticism over the handling of the economic situation, Meera Srinivasan reports from Colombo. The previous day, President Gotabaya had appointed a new Cabinet. A total of 17 members, including many former Cabinet Ministers, were sworn in. But the “new Cabinet” did not include two Rajapaksa brothers — Chamal and Basil Rajapaksa — and Namal Rajapaksa, their nephew, who earlier held key portfolios.
Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is currently in Washington and would seek up to $4 billion support from the International Monetary Fund. While the country continues to grapple with the crisis, it big neighbours have come with some assistance. China pledged “an urgent emergency humanitarian aid” of RMB 200 million [roughly $ 31 million] to Sri Lanka last week. India has extended the duration of the $400 million currency swap facility which it had concluded with the island nation in January.
China has signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a first-of-its-kind arrangement that could pave the way for further Chinese security deals overseas. Under the agreement, the two sides “will conduct cooperation in such areas as maintenance of social order, protection of the safety of people’s lives and property, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response, in an effort to help Solomon Islands strengthen capacity building in safeguarding its own security.” In this FAQ, Ananth Krishnan explains why has the China-Solomon Islands deal become the latest flashpoint between Beijing and Washington.
In the Indian Ocean island nation Maldives, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Thursday issued a decree banning the ‘India Out’ campaign, now led by former President Abdulla Yameen, terming it a “threat to national security.” The move follows a recent decision by the Maldives’s National Security Council that the campaign “to incite hatred against India” is a “threat” to national security. As Maldives is heading towards the Presidential election next year, India has become a domestic political issue with the ruling dispensation being seen as pro-India and the opposition led by Mr. Yameen as pro-China. In this editorial, we argue that “the challenge before India is to build closer ties with all political factions of the Maldives while helping the country meet its economic and security requirements.”