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Reaching Out To Kiev

How India can help solve the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

June 8, 2015 12:20:01 am
Vladimir Putin What is the potential Indian interest in saving Europe? In the context of a strategically more sophisticated and assertive China, India must begin to look for opportunities to make itself useful in international affairs beyond its South Asian backyard. (Source: AP photo)

By: Irvin Studin

The conflict between Russia, Ukraine and the West is at once the world’s most significant geopolitical problem, and its most solvable. What is now needed is energetic engagement from Asia. India is just the country to lead this charge, and such Indian leadership could be the turning point that gives New Delhi the confidence it needs to be a leading global player.

Under the Minsk 2.0 ceasefire regime negotiated earlier this year by the Normandy Quartet (Paris, Berlin, Kiev and Moscow), the fighting between belligerents has calmed, even if both continue to commit sporadic violations and casualties have been far from eliminated. Both sides are trapped in what strategic analysts call a “security dilemma” — that is, without a definitive terminus to the conflict, each side uses the ceasefire to prepare for the next tactical battle, knowing that the other side is behaving similarly, and that retreat or disarming may be viewed as a weakness that could be exploited.

There is only one way to end this security dilemma — peacekeepers. Moscow called for them at one point but has since changed its position. Kiev, once sceptical, is now actively calling for them. But even if both Moscow and Kiev agree that peacekeepers would end the fighting, they are in disagreement on the desired composition of any peacekeeping force. Kiev is advocating for a force primarily from the EU. For Moscow, this is unacceptable, as EU peacekeepers mean Nato peacekeepers. Instead, Moscow has expressed interest in a force from former Soviet countries. But this is unacceptable to Kiev, given their military interdependence with Russia.

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The peacekeeping force must come primarily from another continent. That continent cannot be North America, which is Nato. It cannot be Australia (Oceania), which is too intertwined in Western structures, and it is unlikely to be South America or Africa, as they are too far removed from the strategic imaginations of both Moscow and Kiev. Enter Asia. But which country? China does not actively do peacekeeping, and is too strategically threatening to Russia — even if Russia, too, is partially pivoting to China. Instead, the peacekeeping force should come from India.

Why India? India has superior peacekeeping experience, is politically neutral in this conflict, is strategically unthreatening to Moscow and Kiev and, because of its deep ties with the former Soviet Union, is highly respected in both countries. What is the potential Indian interest in saving Europe? In the context of a strategically more sophisticated and assertive China, India must begin to look for opportunities to make itself useful in international affairs beyond its backyard. Playing a pivotal role in solving this conflict may just be the “Indian moment” that puts the wind in Delhi’s sails, ushering in an era in which its strategic community finally comes of age.

Would Russia veto an Indian peacekeeping force at the UN Security Council? For now, yes. But Moscow can be moved. Russia would presumably want three conditions met in order to agree to the peacekeepers: First, credible guarantees that Ukraine will never become a member of Nato; second, that economic sanctions unrelated to Crimea will be lifted upon the insertion of peacekeepers; third, that Kiev will fully deliver on the special status and economic commitments it has made with respect to Lugansk and Donetsk.


If Indian peacekeepers in the Donbass would bring an end to the armed conflict, they are by no means a guarantee that post-revolutionary Ukraine will flourish. Instead, Ukraine’s success or failure will turn on two factors: Whether its new leadership is competent (in defanging its militias, delivering key economic and administrative reforms, and reuniting a divided country) and, paradoxically, whether Russia can be reintegrated into Ukraine’s future even as Ukraine pivots toward the EU. Such reintegration requires us to revisit an idea that was floated in the fall of 2013: a trilateral EU-Ukraine-Russia commission that would be able to address all species of “interstitial” policy and administrative issues between Brussels, Kiev and Moscow.

Delhi should make its move in the next few months if we are to avoid another terrible winter in the region and possible expansion or ossification of the conflict. In doing so, India will be saving the world.

The writer is president, Institute for 21st Century Questions, and professor of public policy in Russia’s national academy of public administration.

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First published on: 08-06-2015 at 12:20:01 am
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