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Ukraine seeks India's help in ending war with Russia

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba's visit to India comes as Kyiv tries to drum up support from Global South countries for a planned peace conference in Switzerland that Russia has rejected

Update : 30 Mar 2024, 09:00 AM

India's potential role as a mediator with Moscow, and its position as a vanguard of the Global South, is coming into focus for Ukraine as it seeks to expand international support for a peace plan more than two years after the Russian invasion.

After arriving in India on Thursday for a two-day visit, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Indian media that New Delhi "is a very important player in the world and we need India to restore just and lasting peace in Ukraine."

Kuleba's agenda includes a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and the deputy national security adviser.

"India can play a very important role in bringing together more nations from the Global South," Kuleba told Indian broadcaster NDTV, adding: "If India sits at the table of the peace formula, the initiative put forward by Ukraine to find a diplomatic solution to the war, then many other nations will feel much safer and comfortable sitting next to India and they will come and join this effort."

Indian political scholar Amitabh Mattoo told DW that a phone call last week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a sign that India is positioning itself as a potential mediator or peacemaker in the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

"Ukraine is pushing for its own peace plan. After the Modi conversation, there is a feeling that New Delhi will be more sensitive to Kyiv's interests," said Mattoo, who is dean of the School of International Studies at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

"Given that New Delhi has leverage with Moscow, much more than any Western country, Kuleba thinks it fit to reach out to New Delhi," he added.

India's longstanding ties with Russia

Since Russia launched its war in Ukraine, India has drawn Western criticism by staying neutral and not condemning Moscow's unprovoked invasion, while maintaining trade and energy ties with Moscow, even as Western sanctions sought to strangle the Russian economy.

Kuleba himself criticized India in 2022 for purchasing Russian oil. But this week he told the Times of India newspaper that Ukraine was not against India's economic engagement with Russia and emphasized that the "red line for Ukraine is financing Russia's war machine."

However, Kuleba has also stressed that India should be looking to build alliances for the future, and urged it to reevaluate its relationship with Russia.

"The co-operation between India and Russia is largely based on the Soviet legacy," Kuleba said in an interview with the Financial Times.

"But this is not the legacy that will be kept for centuries; it is a legacy that is evaporating," he added.

"Kuleba's statement that Ukraine is alright with India buying Russian oil as long as it does not fund Putin's war machine is significant. It is an acknowledgement of the role that India can possibly play in finding a way out of the vexed situation that Ukraine finds itself in," Archana Upadhyay, chair at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies at JNU, told DW.

India's role in global diplomacy

Under Prime Minister Modi, India has added to its diplomatic accolades, for example, by hosting a successful G20 leaders' summit last summer, and driving forward the expansion of the BRICS grouping.

In separate phone calls last week with Zelenskyy, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Modi conveyed India's position that dialogue and diplomacy are the way forward to ending the war. Modi also said India would continue to do everything within its means to support a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Indian strategic expert Raja Mohan said Kuleba's visit this week is a result of a series of high-level political interactions on both sides and should set the stage for a visit to Kyiv by Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar.

"India has always indicated its readiness to contribute towards defusing the situation. What is important to understand is that Ukraine has begun showing a greater understanding of India's position and relations with the Global South, despite the goodwill and traditional ties India has with Moscow," Mohan told DW.

"As India's stakes go up in the third year of the war, it is keen to calibrate its ties with Ukraine as it enters a new balance," he added.

Plans for Swiss peace summit

Kuleba's visit to India comes as Ukraine is trying to drum up global support for a peace conference set to take place in Switzerland.

In February, Switzerland told a meeting of the UN General Assembly a day before the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that it intended to hold a high-level international peace conference at Kyiv's request "by the summer."

Russia has rejected participation in the conference. Earlier this week, Russian UN envoy Gennady Gatilov said Moscow does "not see any possibility" of Switzerland taking the lead on a peace process without Russian participation.

Moscow has said Switzerland relinquished any neutral status on the conflict by having adopted European Union sanctions against Russia, and freezing billions in Russian assets.

As the war drags on into its third year along a mostly frozen frontline in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv's diplomatic offensive aims to refurbish its alliances and reemphasize the global consequences of allowing Russia to achieve its war aims.

In November 2022, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy presented a 10-point peace plan, which demands that Russia returns Ukrainian territory it has captured, including Crimea, and the removal of Russian troops and military assets. It also called for a mechanism to prosecute Russian war crimes committed during the invasion.

Russia has consistently rejected Ukraine's proposals. In a newspaper interview, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was ready to hold discussions, but not on the basis of Zelenskyy's peace plan. Lavrov added that Swiss officials were working to secure Russian participation in the peace summit by including Moscow's terms.

"India would have to do a balancing act here to attend this as a leading representative of the countries of the Global South," Amitabh Singh, a Russia expert at JNU, told DW.

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