Two years After the Russian war in Ukraine began, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is finally invited to India- does the visit signify a u turn, a rethink or simply rebalancing by New Delhi and Kiev? And given close India Russia ties, What is on the Ukrainian wishlist for India?

This week New Delhi had an unusual visitor: The Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba. Unusual because since the beginning of the Ukraine war, and Kuleba’s appointment as FM in 2022

-No Ukrainian Minister at Cabinet level have visited Delhi

-In the part year 2 deputy ministers have visited, but did not change India’s policy

-No Indian minister at any rank has yet visited Kiev during the war, although several ministers were sent to neighbouring countries to help with bringing home Indian students

-MEA secretary Sanjay Verma had visited Ukraine in 2023

-PM Modi has spoken with Ukraine President Zelensky a number of times, met him on the sidelines of the G7 in Hiroshima, but did not accept his request to address the G20 meeting

-In contrast, India and Russia have exchanged a number of ministerial and NSA visits since the war began. PM Modi has not visited Moscow or hosted President Putin, but sent EAM Jaishankar to Russia for a 5 day visit in December

So, what is Ukraine’s FM hoping as the outcomes from his visit? Speaking before he landed in Delhi, here’s what Kuleba said, invoking Mahatma Gandhi to seek Indian support

What does this mean:

-To begin with, Ukraine wants to reset ties with India, that have been strained by Ukraine’s criticism of India’s ties with Russia.

-At the beginning of the war Zelensky was critical of India, especially after India abstained on all UN UNGA UNSC IAEA and HRC votes that condemned Russia’s invasion

-Kuleba himself said India should stop buying oil from Russia, saying it was mixed with the “blood of Ukrainians”, as it funded Russia’s war effort

-Another Zelensky advisor questioned India and China’s intellect in backing Russia

-By ensuring an invitation from a Russian partner, Kuleba is sending a message with the optics of the visit, which will be watched closely in Moscow, especially as Russia reels from the massive terror attack this month, which Russia blamed Kiev for

-Ukraine wants India to become a part of the peace process

-In January 2024, Zelensky met the Swiss President in Berne, asking him to set up a peace summit that will for the first time seek to bring Russia and Ukraine to the table- the summit is now expected in June

-Russia, that wants a ceasefire and status quo to precede all talks has not indicated it will attend

-As a result western powers, Switzerland and Ukraine want those who they believe have clout with Moscow, like India and China to attend the summit. China says it is considering the invitation, the MEA when asked, has been non-committal.

In particular, they want PM Modi to convey the messages of the summit to President Putin, as India has done in the past on the grain initiative and on nuclear safety issues.

-And on a bilateral note, the Ukraine FM was seeking not just political support, but concrete assistance

-India has thus far sent 15 consignments of humanitarian aid to Ukraine during the war- mainly tents, blankets, medicines

-However, Ukraine wants India to allow exports of more technical goods- especially low cost options of cellphone towers and communication infrastructure to replace those damaged by Russian bombing, medical devices and hospital equipment, as well as construction equipment for reconstruction in the country.

-He also wants Indian companies to be allowed to invest in Ukraine

After the Kuleba-Jaishankar meeting, heres what the two sides said:

Jaishankar said in a tweet that they had exchanged views on initiatives relating to the Ukraine conflict, and discussed cooperation on Trade, health sector and science and technology

So what is the Role India can play, and what’s in it for New Delhi?

By participating in the Swiss Summit,

India can project itself in a global peacemaking role as a responsible interlocutor,

It can leverage its ties with Russia, which have thus far been viewed negatively in the west, in a positive manner and represent the Global South’s emphasis on ensuring food, energy and fertilizer supplies are not disrupted

Counter China’s growing footprint in the space, given Beijing has already proffered its own peace proposal for Ukraine, in the manner it effected an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran last year

However, India’s abstentions at the UN, its balancing act on the Russian invasion- refusing to criticise Russia’s actions, but sending humanitarian support to Ukraine, and its preference for behind the scenes diplomacy, all indicate that New Delhi may prefer a less visible role

WV Take:

If India aspires for global leadership, the opportunity to play a role in resolving one of the world’s biggest conflicts must not be taken lightly. While there is always the risk of public failure, a prominent role in the peace process would also help India campaign for UN Security Council permanent membership, as well as the more immediate run for temporary member in 2028.

WV Reading Recommendations:

Memory Makers: The Politics of the Past in Putin’s Russia by Jade McGlynn

Russia- Ukraine War: The Conflict and Its Global Impact by Ajay Singh

The Russo-Ukrainian War by Serhii Plokhy

The Lost Peace: How the West Failed to Prevent a Second Cold War by Richard Sakwa

The Role of BRICS in Large-Scale Armed Conflict: Building a Multi-Polar World Order by Malte Brosig

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan


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