The Ukrainian mission in India asked New Delhi on Friday to tell its “friend” Russia to correct its mistakes, and stop supporting those who had shot down a civilian aircraft.
Unfazed Russian diplomats in India agreed the incident was “tragic”, but blamed “miscalculation” by “some party”, and recalled a 2001 incident when Ukraine had shot down a Russian plane “by mistake”.
A day after the catastrophic missile attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, the Malaysian and Dutch missions in Delhi were in mourning.
At the Malaysian High Commission on Satya Marg, reeling from the incredible bad luck of losing two aircraft of the national carrier with over 530 people on board in the space of 4 months, officials offered prayers during the day. A senior Malaysian diplomat who declined to be named, said Eid celebrations were expected to be “sombre” and may even be “postponed”.
The embassy of the Netherlands, which has lost 189 of its citizens in the disaster, was flooded with messages and calls offering condolences. The Dutch flag over the Embassy building had been lowered to half mast, diplomat Robert Zimmer said. Grieving officials at the Embassy rued the cruelty of innocent Dutch lives becoming “collateral casualty” of the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Sitting in Kiev’s modest embassy building in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, spokesperson Roman Pyrih told The Indian Express, “If you have a good friend, and if he makes a mistake, you should point out to him and ask him to correct his mistakes.”
India, Pyrih said, must tell its friend Russia to “respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and not support those who brought down the plane with missiles”.
“We want Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reiterate what his predecessor Manmohan Singh told Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, and supported the principle of terrirtorial integrity of Ukraine,” Pyrih said, referring to the March 19 phone conversation between the two leaders, during which Singh had stressed India’s consistent position on the “unity and territorial integrity” of nations.
Pyrih, however, also recalled then National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon’s statement on Russia’s “legitimate interests”, and said that he had found it “disturbing”.
“We hope the new Indian government will stand firm on the territorial integity issue. We just want peace and territorial integity,” the Ukrainian diplomat said.
At a meeting with Putin in Brazil this week, Prime Minister Modi had told the Russian President that even a child in India would name Russia as India’s best friend, because “Russia has been with India in times of crisis”.
Pyrih blamed Moscow squarely for Thursday’s attack on the Malaysian aircraft. “In the last few days, it was clear that these terrorists had acquired advanced weapons, since some of them were able to hit a fighter plane at 6,000 metres. Ukraine’s defence ministry had removed all anti-aircraft missiles on June 30. So the only way advanced weapons could have been procured was from Russian agencies,” he said.
This is a reminder to the world community, including India, that the “terrorists” were being supported by the Russians, the Ukrainian diplomat said.
Sergei Karmalito, a senior counsellor at the Russian embassy in Delhi, denied the Ukrainian allegations. “I can say that these insurgents,” Karmalito said, choosing a description for the Ukrainian rebels that was tellingly different from Pyrih’s “terrorists”, “do not have any weapons that can hit objects at such a high altitude”.
“This was miscalculation by some party… I can’t say which party… but it is very unfortunate where intensive fighting was going on in the last few days,” Karmalito, who was a Russian journalist in India in the ‘70s and ‘80s before joining the diplomatic corps, told The Indian Express.
In 2001, Karmalito recalled, Ukrainian forces had shot at a Russian civilian aircraft flying from Tel Aviv to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, causing the plane to crash into the Black Sea, killing all 78 on board. “That was an accident, by mistake… history sometimes repeats itself,” he said, adding that it was difficult to blame anyone, but that Moscow was ready for a “very careful, profound and thorough” investigation.