Updated: February 23, 2022 4:10:13 am
HOURS AFTER Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees to recognise Ukraine’s regions of “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” as “independent”, India on Tuesday expressed “deep concern” over the escalation of tension along the Russia-Ukraine border and said it was “convinced” the issue can only be resolved through diplomatic dialogue.
Underlining that they “cannot afford to have a military escalation”, India also asked “all sides” to “exert greater efforts to bridge divergent interests”.
In its strongest statement so far on the situation, India said it has been closely following the evolving developments relating to Ukraine, including “along the eastern border of Ukraine and the related announcement by the Russian Federation” — and that “these developments have the potential to undermine peace and security of the region”.
However, it did not condemn Russia’s actions and decision to send troops to Ukraine. Significantly, its statement did not use the words “territorial integrity and sovereignty”, which it usually deploys in the context of China’s aggressive behaviour.
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Some Western nations are likely to view this approach as one that condones Russia’s action. But this is India’s diplomatic dilemma. It has very important strategic ties with Russia, and is dependent on it for crucial military supplies — 60-70 per cent of its military hardware is of Russian-origin. This is a consideration it cannot overlook, especially during a tense border standoff with China.
India has also not condemned Russia’s statement of recognition of the two separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. While India may like to portray its own statement as neutral, the Western bloc, led by the United States, will not view this line through a similar lens.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine on Monday night, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti said: “We have been closely following the evolving developments relating to Ukraine, including developments along the eastern border of Ukraine and the related announcement by the Russian Federation.”
He did not refer to Russia’s actions directly. However, in what is being interpreted as diplomatic language advising Russia not to take steps that might inflame the situation further, he said: “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.”
Internationally, Russia’s actions are being seen widely as violation of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity, and a breach of international law and agreements. These include 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 on the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine.
India, meanwhile, called for “restraint on all sides” and stressed that the immediate priority is “de-escalation of tensions”, taking into account the security interests of all countries and long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond.
The UNSC emergency open briefing, called for by Ukraine following Putin’s decision, is the Council’s third meeting in recent weeks as tensions in the region escalated. Incidentally, the UNSC is under Russia’s Presidency for the month.
Falling back on its time-tested line of refraining from blaming any one entity, India strongly emphasised the “vital need for all sides” to maintain international peace and security, and asked “all sides” to intensify diplomatic efforts to reach an amicable solution at the earliest.
“We are convinced that this issue can only be resolved through diplomatic dialogue. We need to give space to the recent initiatives undertaken by parties which seek to diffuse tensions,” Tirumurti said.
In this context, he said New Delhi welcomes the intense efforts underway, including through the Trilateral Contact Group and under the Normandy format.
On the whole, India’s statement underlines its 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.
At the same time, it has also pointed out that the “well-being of Indian nationals is of priority”. “The safety and security of civilians are essential. More than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas,” Tirumurti said. Many of these students are enrolled in medical colleges in Ukraine.
New Delhi has so far issued at least three advisories, including one on Tuesday asking the students to leave the country on the earliest available flights, for now. Some students have been asking the Indian Embassy to persuade their colleges to start classes online, so their studies are not affected. India has also asked its diplomats’ families to return, and facilitated more flights home.
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