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Choosing The ‘Side’ Of Peace

India, on October 7 (2022), abstained from voting on a UNHRC draft proposal, favouring the appointment of an independent expert to step up scrutiny of Russia’s Human Rights record at home as arbitrary arrests, a crackdown on dissenting voices and limits on Free Speech worsen during the war in Ukraine. Within 72 hours of the voting, the Russian Army launched a series of missile attacks in different parts of Ukraine, including Kiev. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs immediately condemned the attack, saying that both Russia and Ukraine should resolve the ongoing crisis through peaceful negotiations. The Indian Ministry clearly mentioned in a statement that New Delhi was ready to join any initiative to end the conflict.

Diplomats are of the opinion that India’s statement is in accordance with the diplomatic balancing act that the Narendra Modi Administration in New Delhi has been pursuing in the Russia-Ukraine War since February 24, 2022. During their meeting on the side-lines of the September 15-16 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit 2022 at Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Indian Prime Minister Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that it was not the time for war. Instead, food and energy security should be given priority during this emergency period, he said. The US and its Western allies welcomed PM Modi’s advice to the Russian President. At the same time, India continues to import crude oil from Russia, rejecting the request of the G-5 Group to stop importing Russian crude.

Diplomats have also opined that India abstained from the October 7 voting on the UNHRC draft proposal, as New Delhi wanted to maintain cordial ties with the Kremlin. Interestingly, India voted with the European Union (EU) on Afghanistan in UNHRC, but voted against a resolution on the Human Rights situation in Ethiopia, one of New Delhi’s oldest partners in Africa, and abstained from voting on resolutions against China and Russia on the same day.

Soon after the missile strike on Ukraine, spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry Arindam Bagchi said that India was “deeply concerned” about the targeting of infrastructure and deaths of civilians in Ukraine, and was ready to support any de-escalation efforts. Speaking at a media conference, he added: “We reiterate that escalation of hostilities is in no one’s interest. We urge immediate cessation of hostilities and the urgent return to the path of diplomacy and dialogue. India stands ready to support all such efforts aimed at de-escalation.” Bagchi stressed: “India has consistently maintained since the beginning of the conflict that the global order is anchored in the principles of the UN Charter, International Law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all States.

India further issued an advisory to all its citizens living in Ukraine, as Russian aggression started intensifying. The Indians have been requested to avoid travel within Ukraine unless absolutely necessary. Citizens of India have also been advised not to visit Ukraine.

Significantly, PM Modi dialled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on October 4 (2022) to discuss the current political scenario in the former Soviet Republic. During their conversation, President Zelenskyy said: “Nuclear blackmail by Russia, in particular regarding the Zaporizhzhia NPP, is a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to the whole world.” At the same time, he assured the Indian Prime Minister that the interlocutors were paying due attention to the issue of nuclear safety. The President also thanked PM Modi for India’s support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, emphasising the importance of the Indian leader’s recent statement that meant “now is not the time for war“. He also noted the significant humanitarian aid provided by the Government and the private sector of the Republic of India to Ukraine. For his part, PM Modi stressed on the importance of strengthening the partnership between India and Ukraine against the backdrop of Russian aggression.

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