India’s Subtle Shift on Ukraine - How and Why?

As the crisis in Ukraine became kinetic and lethal, with Russian artillery and air, targeting cities particularly Kharkiv, India has changed its policy from supporting diplomacy and dialogue to seeking an end to escalating violence.

This was evident in the statement by India’s Permanent Representative in the United Nations Ambassador T.S Tirumurti.

Speaking at the UN UNGA Emergency Special Session (ESS) on Ukraine on 28 February 2022 he said, “India is deeply concerned that the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate. We reiterate our call for the immediate cessation of violence and an end to hostilities”.

Tirumurti stated that, “ All member states of the United Nations are not only obliged to follow the UN Charter but also respect international law and territorial integrity and sovereignty of states”.

Ambassador Tirumurti was referring to Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter which expressly states that, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

Quoting the prime minister Mr Narendra Modi he said, “ Prime Minister Modi has advocated this strongly in his recent conversations with the leadership of the Russian Federation and Ukraine. In this regard, we welcome the commencement of direct talks between both sides. We reiterate our firm conviction that all differences and interests can only be bridged through honest, sincere and sustained dialogue”.

India also highlighted the move for humanitarian support to Ukraine providing, “urgent relief supplies, including medicines”.

Earlier in the UN Security Council motion for referring the Ukraine crisis to the UN General Assembly given the Russian veto on a resolution in the UNSC, India had abstained keeping in view what Ambassador Tirumurti called, “totality of the circumstances”.

Concurrently over the last two days on February 28 and March 01, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on phone with Mr. Nicolae-Ionel Ciucă, Prime Minister of Romania, Mr. Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, and Andrzej Duda, President of Poland.

He also spoke to Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic and Charles Michel, President of the European Council.

The objective was two fold – seek assistance of the nations bordering Ukraine for evacuation of Indian students from that country and explain Indian stance to the leaders in Europe many of whom were distressed by New Delhi’s continued support to Russia despite Moscow having transformed to lethal attacks in taking out Ukrainian cities.

The Press release by the Ministry of External Affairs highlighted that the Prime Minister expressed his anguish over the deteriorating situation and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. He reiterated India’s appeal for cessation of hostilities and a return to dialogue and stressed that the contemporary global order was anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.

The Prime Minister welcomed the talks between the two parties and stressed upon the importance of ensuring free and uninterrupted humanitarian access and smooth movement of all people.

Prime Minister also spoke about efforts being made by India to send urgent relief supplies, including medicines, to the affected areas.

In the previous statements in the UN Security Council the Indian Ambassador had emphasized on diplomacy and dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Clearly the situation had gone beyond diplomacy and dialogue and thus a change was necessary.

What are the factors that led to the shift in Indian approach.

Russia’s use of lethal force targeting cities in Ukraine is one factor with the death of a Indian medical student in shelling in Ukraine being an outcome of the same.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the father of Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar expressing his sympathies.

The use of lethal force is gross violation of the UN Charter and human rights but also stipulations restricting use of lethal weaponry and munitions against civilians.

Thus it was difficult for India to justify any stance supporting Russia particularly in the UN Human Rights Council where the issue has come up.

In the UN General Assembly, the overwhelming numbers which castigated Russia for being an aggressor may be another factor.

That India’s close partners the United States, UK and European Union members were on the other side of the fence backing Ukraine may have been another that led for India to shift the approach.

Never the less India will remain short of naming Russia but must press to seek Moscow to relent on violence or usurp sovereignty of Ukraine through force.


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