India said on Tuesday (February 22) that the escalation of tensions along the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation was a “matter of deep concern”, and that these developments had the potential to undermine peace and security in the region.
This was spelt out at the emergency meeting called by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
The immediate priority, India said, was to de-escalate the crisis in eastern Europe. Here are six key takeaways from India’s statement.
FIRST, India has not condemned Russia’s statement of recognition of the two separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. While India may like to portray the statement as neutral, but the western bloc, led by the United States, will not view it in that fashion.
SECOND, India has talked about “these developments” without naming Russia’s actions at all. “The escalation of tension along the border of Ukraine with the Russian Federation is a matter of deep concern. These developments have the potential to undermine peace and security of the region,” India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, T S Tirumurti, said at the UNSC meeting.
This is essentially using diplomatese to advise Russia not to take further steps that might inflame the situation further.
Internationally, Russia’s actions are widely seen as violation of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity, and a breach of international law and agreements — including the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015 between Kyiv and the Russian-backed separatists, and the 1994 Bucharest Memorandum, originally signed by the Russian Federation, the US, and UK, on security assurances against threats or the use of force affecting the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.
THIRD, a major concern for India remains the 20,000-odd Indian nationals, mostly students, in Ukraine. Many of these students are enrolled in medical colleges in Ukraine.
“Safety and security of civilians is essential,” Tirumurti said. “More than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas. The well-being of Indians is of priority to us.”
New Delhi has so far issued at least three advisories — including one last week asking the students to leave the country by the earliest available flights, temporarily. Some students have been asking the Indian Embassy to persuade their colleges to start classes online, so their studies are not affected. The Indian Embassy is trying to impress upon Ukrainian colleges and universities the need to do so.
FOURTH, the statement underlines India’s insistence on diplomacy, which has been articulated by the government on several occasions, including by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Melbourne earlier this month.
Tirumurti said on Tuesday, “We need to give space to the recent initiatives undertaken by parties which seek to defuse tensions. In this context, we welcome the intense efforts underway, including through the Trilateral Contact Group (of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the OSCE) and under the Normandy Format (involving Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and France). We need parties to exert greater efforts to bridge divergent interests. We cannot afford to have a military escalation.”
FIFTH, India has asked “all sides” to intensify diplomatic efforts to reach an amicable solution at the earliest. This is again a time-tested Indian line — in which it refrains from blaming any one side for not being cooperative. The West has squarely blamed Putin for the current situation, while the Russian President has said the threat to Russia from NATO’s eastward expansion is responsible for tensions.
“…We strongly emphasise the vital need for all sides to maintain international peace and security by exercising the utmost restraint and intensifying diplomatic efforts to ensure that a mutually amicable solution is arrived at the earliest,” Tirumurti said.
SIXTH, the Indian statement did not use the words “territorial integrity and sovereignty”, which it always refers to in the context of China’s aggressive behaviour. Some in the West are likely to view this as condoning the Russian action, and applying double standards.
But this is India’s diplomatic dilemma — India has very important strategic ties with Russia, and is dependent on it for crucial military supplies. Sixty to 70 per cent of India’s military hardware is of Russian-origin — and this is a consideration it cannot overlook, especially at a time when a tense border standoff with China is ongoing.
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