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Can Modi Broker Peace In Ukraine?

Last updated on: April 10, 2023 10:00 IST

Only the future will tell if Modi can leave his mark on the Ukraine crisis.
Nonetheless, it is both a challenge and an opportunity for India's diplomacy, notes Rup Narayan Das.

IMAGE: The Ukrainian national flag flutters near buildings destroyed by Russian military strikes in the town of Borodianka in the Kyiv region. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

In a very significant diplomatic development having international ramifications, Ukraine's First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Emaine Dzhaparova is visiting India on a three-day trip.

She is also slated to extend AN invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Ukraine.

The visit is the first of its kind from Ukraine after the Ukraine crisis.

This has aroused considerable anxiety, if not a cautious optimism about finding a mutually acceptable framework for ending the war in Ukraine.

Can Prime Minister Modi break the Gordian knot and bring a truce and normalcy to Ukraine ravaged by war and caught between the West led by the USA and Putin's Russia and China acquiescing to Russia?

This article attempts to reconstruct and connect the dots to have a sense of the evolving scenario.


The Ukraine Crisis and India's calibrated response

The challenge to India's foreign policy posturing in recent times and in fact to the world at large is the Ukraine crisis which broke out in February last year; the crisis is far from over as yet.

Considering India's historical and traditional friendship and more importantly, defence relationship with Russia, it is indeed a piquant situation in view of India's evolving strategic relationship with the West, particularly the US.

India has, however, navigated the delicate balance creatively with finesse and dexterity upholding the country's national interest.

India's principled position on the complex Ukraine imbroglio was articulated in a carefully worded statement by its then permanent representative to the United Nations T S Tirumurti during the voting of the US-sponsored UN resolution deploring the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

It said, 'We urge that all efforts are made for the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities. We are also deeply concerned about the welfare of the Indian community, including a large number of students, in Ukraine. The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, International law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. All members need to honour these principles.

'Dialogue is the only way to settle disputes... It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. For these reasons, India has chosen to abstain from the resolution.'

IMAGE: A Ukrainian soldier stands next to pickups that were donated for use while hunting on weaponised drones at the Hostomel airfield, northwest of Kyiv. Photograph: Roman Pilipey/Getty Images

This is a strong statement conveying India's balanced position on the Ukraine crisis.

India's abstention on the US-sponsored UN resolutions deploring Russian action should be seen in conjunction with the statement which had its salutary effects on all concerned.

It indeed enhanced India's self-esteem among the comity of nations earning applause and appreciation from both sides of the strategic divide and also from Ukraine.

The United States urged India to use its influence with Russia to protect the rule-based international order.

As a statesman of international standing, Modi earlier spoke to both President Biden, and President Putin and also President Zelensky of Ukraine to end violence and for the restoration of peace in the war-ravaged country.

It was because of Modi's efforts and appeal the Indian students including some others from South Asian countries could be evacuated from the war zone where the shelling was taking place.

IMAGE: A woman holds a sign with the slogan words 'Save Syria & Ukraine from criminal Putin' as people, many of them Ukrainians living in Berlin, protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin under the motto 'No Freedom. No Peace', April 8, 2023. Photograph: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

A related issue that also attests to India's independent foreign policy upholding national interest and without buckling down to pressure, is India's decision to continue buying Russian oil in spite of US sanctions.

In an interview with an Austrian television channel External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said that Europe had imported six times the energy from Russia than India had done since February 2022.

India's commitment to honour and implement the defence deal of $2 billion to buy the S-4000 missile system from Russia in spite of the US threat to impose sanctions under Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAASTA) is yet another instance of India's strategic autonomy.

The S-400 air defence system was contracted for by India in a defence deal and five squadrons are envisaged to be procured in a phased manner.

In a major boost to the country's air capabilities, the Indian Air Force has deployed the first squadron of the S-400 air defence missile system in the Punjab sector to take care of aerial threats from both Pakistan and China.

IMAGE: Believers have their Easter baskets blessed during the Easter Vigil mass at the Cathedral of St Alexander in Kyiv, April 8, 2023. Photograph: Roman Pilipey/Getty Images

India's G-20 Presidency: Can India prevail over Russia-China duopoly?

The strategic significance of Ms Dzhaparova's India visit can be attributed to India's Presidency of G-20 which India is hosting in September.

Kyiv is also expecting an invite to the high table of the G-20 summit.

The Group at its last summit in Bali last year has articulated its stance on the Ukraine crisis.

Kyiv expects the Group should not only reiterate its earlier stance but also improve upon it taking into account recent developments.

The envisaged invite to Prime Minister Modi to visit Ukraine is a clear reflection of Kyiv's expectation of his statesmanship to hammer out a consensus safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The hiatus between the West led by the US and the duopoly of Russia and China was very much evident at the recent meeting of the interlocutors from the G-20 held at Kumarakom in Kerala under the stewardship of India's Sherpa Amitabh Kant where China and Russia expressed their concerns over the approach of the US and European countries.

Articulating the stances and emphasis Kant said that several options were on the table to bring unanimity on how the issue could be resolved.

Although it was reported that the G-20 members have agreed on 99% of issues, the Ukraine issue was not resolved and it is hoped that the consensus could be worked out by September during the summit.

India's Presidency of G-20 has put India's diplomacy to the test on the Ukraine issue considering the strategic rivalry between India and China.

India is in an enviable position of enjoying the confidence of both the West and Russia.

The summit outcome will only reflect whether India can prevail over China's stance, at the behest of Russia, to fine-tune a resolution accommodating divergent interests.

The issue should be addressed upfront and should not be couched with diplomatic niceties and rhetoric.

Perhaps India is the only country that enjoys the confidence of both the USA and Russia.

In the past India had played its diplomacy well in the India-China imbroglio during the Geneva Conference and also in the Korean crisis which China downplayed.

India is now a major power to be reckoned with. Only the future will tell if Modi can leave his mark on the Ukraine crisis.

Nonetheless, it is both a challenge and an opportunity for India's diplomacy.

Dr Rup Narayan Das, a China scholar, is currently a Senior Fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. The views expressed in this column are personal.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/