Ukrainian conflict: a test for Indian statesmanship

K N Pandita

The conflict between pro-Russian groups along Ukraine’s border with Russian Federation and the Ukrainian nationalists has been going on for more than a year. Russia had strong reasons to believe that the US and the EU were encouraging Ukrainian leaders to become part of NATO.

Ukraine becoming a member of NATO would have severely undermined the security status of the Russian Federation. Consequently, Russia was obliged to covertly strengthen the pro-Russian elements in the Eastern enclave of Donetsk and Luhansk. Perhaps things would not have come to a crisis if the western powers did not play the trick of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine by playing up the NATO factor.

Yes, in 2012, Moscow reacted fast to stem the deteriorating political situation in Crimea, then part of Ukraine. Playing in the hands of western countries and the Islamists, the plan was that more than a hundred prominent Crimean Islamic clerics would be taken to a protected location where they were supposed to make an announcement of Crimea becoming an independent Islamic State. Moscow acted swiftly and dismantled the entire conspiratorial structure dealing with the culprits harshly. Many of them were banished to the Siberian wastelands.

Crimea has tremendous strategic importance in the Black Sea particularly the seaport of Sevastopol. Russian Federation considers it vital for her security.

The Russian side made efforts to resolve the problem that was raising its head on the Russo-Ukrainian border. These turned futile.

As complications began increasing, the US and allies accelerated anti –Russia propaganda and hardened their stance against Russia. The Ukrainian President was becoming more and more helpless while the Russian Defence Ministry intermittently kept on reinforcing the pro-Russian elements in Ukraine. The elements began to be called insurgents.

For the last two or three weeks, alarming news continued to pour in from the tense war zones along the border. The western media gave much hype to Moscow preparing to attack Ukraine. In support of its propaganda, the western sources spoke of Russia moving hundreds of thousands of its troops and war machine close to the Ukrainian border. Moscow claimed that its troops were conducting war exercises to forestall any exigency arising on the border in the light of threats from the White House and other sources.

In an interview with the Russian press, President Putin, at one point in time, said that he had ordered the troops to return to their bases after completing the drills. He added that Russia had no plans of leading an attack against Ukraine. Not only the western media muddled with the situation on the ground even President Biden and some heads from the US allies also accused President Putin of telling a lie about the withdrawal of the troops. The real situation was not what the two sides depicted out of euphoria or prejudice. A good number of Russian troops deployed for war exercises were withdrawn and only a small force was left to take care of the security of the border.

Late news is that the Russian helicopters have launched airstrikes on selected eastern parts of Ukraine. Till the sunset of Wednesday, casualties on both sides were reported and indications are that some POWs have also been taken. President Biden has called the meeting of G-7 to discuss the situation.

Russian action in Ukraine has brought tremendous pressure on India. Firstly, the war has forced the Indian mission in Kyiv to arrange the safe return of about 22,000 Indian students admitted to various educational institutions in Ukraine. Secondly, the President of Ukraine has appealed to President Modi to help save Ukraine from the destruction that war causes.

In the Security Council’s emergency meeting Indian representative took a neutral stand and laid great emphasis on sides maintaining restraint and resolving the issue through dialogue. The spokesman of the MEA repeated the words of the Indian representative at the SC.

But the Russian Acting Ambassador in New Delhi, Roman Babushkin, playing his cards smartly made a statement that while repeating the words of the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, added something more that has unveiled the dimensions of the situation for India. He said that Russia welcomes India’s “neutral and independent” stand at the UNSC on Moscow’s move into Eastern Ukraine. He added that sanctions would not affect the delivery of S-400 missiles to India or other defence equipment which India has purchased from Russia. Concerning Pak Premier’s two-day visit to Moscow, the Ambassador said that it would not have any impact on India-Russia relations because the Russia-Pakistan partnership does not encourage a defence relationship. To crown all, the acting Ambassador said that Russia recognizes Kashmir as a bilateral issue.

Prime Minister Modi called a meeting of the Cabinet and discussed the Ukraine issue. He is likely to call President Putin tonight. It appears that India may very actively intervene to ensure that hostilities are stopped immediately and damage to life and property is not allowed to happen. The teams of the MEA have left for border destinations on each side obviously with the mission of pursuing the warring sides to a ceasefire and sitting down to talk on the issues involved. Ukraine’s status as an independent and sovereign state has to be ensured by all.

India has also to take some important lessons from what is unfolding in Ukraine. Firstly, it is a sin to be weak and vacillating. If India had learnt anything about how the erstwhile Soviet Union pulled out the vast Central Asian region from the environs of medieval conservatism and orthodoxy, we would not be faced with an ugly situation in Kashmir today. We have neither rightly understood the real meaning of non-violence nor have we shown the courage of implementing the true ideal.

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