India’s cordial relations with Russia and Ukraine, makes PM Modi the ideal peacemaker
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar recently held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Both leaders spoke on a wide range of issues pertaining to bilateral, regional and global matters.
During the meeting, the Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, “Covid, trade difficulties have taken a toll on the global economy, and we are now seeing consequences of the Ukraine conflict on top of that.”
Jaishakar visited Russia recently and it is the fifth meeting that has taken place between India and Russian leaders after the Ukraine conflict began in February.
His visit bears significant importance as it was held days before the G-20 summit in Bali, which took place on November 15-16. This will be the first time since the war broke out in Ukraine that Putin and the western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, was in the same room.
Jaishankar’s trip was no doubt seen as a key moment, as India has been tipped as a potential negotiator between Russia and Ukraine. He had last visited Moscow in July 2021. According to news reports, it is said that India has intervened quietly in the Russia-Ukraine issue over the past few months, when there was a deadlock. In July, India had weighed in with Russia on the grain shipment from ports in the Black Sea.
Leading up to Jaishankar’s visit, Putin has been vociferous about Modi and India. He had praised India by calling its citizens “talented” and “driven”, a week after he showered praises on Modi and called him a “true patriot”.
With regard to the Ukraine conflict, India has been of the view that the crisis should be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue and has not yet officially condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At a bilateral meeting with Putin in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on September 16th , Modi had told him that “today’s era is not of war”.
With External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow, several diplomats and foreign-policy experts are closely watching India’s possible role in brokering peace between Russia and Ukraine. According to the New York Times, officials within the Indian government have already been discussing what role India might play in peace-making efforts when the time is right.
The reason for this conflict to drag on is the fact that both Russia and Ukraine are not willing to engage in dialog. While Ukraine is feeling it has momentum on the battlefield, Russia too seems in no mood to engage in talks and are confident of their military power. However, experts believe that if owing to the war, the rising energy prices make life really miserable in Ukraine, a settlement or a ceasefire may be possibly reached, according to a NYT report.
Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested holding peace talks along with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, NYT reported citing two Indian officials. Despite the idea failing to materialise, India is increasingly viewed as a potential peacemaker with access to both sides. “Were Russia and Ukraine to express interest in having a neutral third party mediate, India would be a strong candidate with credibility on both sides,” NYT quoted Jeff M. Smith as saying. He is the director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington research institute.
NYT also reported that PM Modi enjoys a good rapport with President Putin, saying that he has the ability to speak to Russia directly. However, India continuing to buy Russian oil and refusing to support resolutions against Russia has angered Ukraine and the US. However, the NYT report suggested that, India has believed that calling out Russia would achieve little and by staying neutral, at least in public, it would support their efforts to end the war. Earlier in September, during a regional summit in Uzbekistan, PM Modi said the whole world was paying the price and told Putin, “Today’s era is not of war.”
He said he wanted “to discuss how we can move forward on the path of peace,” reported NYT. NYT referred to PM Modi as “India’s most powerful prime minister in decades,” said that he is trying to refashion India’s tradition of nonalignment into a more commanding strategy “all alignment” of sorts. It is also reported that Modi has an ambition of etching his name in history as one of India’s greatest leaders who tried to solve the world’s biggest crisis. If the peace-making efforts succeed, it can bring a more prominent place for India in the global order and bring it closer to the long-sought prize, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, NYT reported.
External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, addressing a conference last month in New Zealand, asked, “How do you get to facilitate at least the ability for the participants in the conflict to sit down and talk? Whatever we can do, we will be willing to do.”
Another possibility floated by the diplomats is a joint mediation effort led by India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “The fact that these issues are being discussed and that some officials are contemplating an India, Israel, U.A.E. mediation effort is a significant development,” NYT quoted Former Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster as saying.
“That these three countries could be working together and possibly approaching Russia to mediate its dispute with Ukraine, illustrates the fluidity of the international system and the changes that have occurred in it,” he was quoted as having said. He added that the Indian foreign service has “very skilful diplomats,” and that if they offered to help with talks when Russia and Ukraine were ready for them, “that would be good”.
During Jaishankar’s visit to Russia he held talks with the country’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in continuation of the regular high-level dialogue between the two sides. Talks between the two sides covered an entire range of bilateral issues and views were exchanged on various regional and international developments. Jaishankar also met the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and Minister of Trade and Industry, Denis Manturov, his counterpart for the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC). It was reported that issues pertaining to bilateral economic cooperation in various domains were also discussed. Jaishankar’s visit follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s praise of Indians. Marking the Russia’s Unity Day celebrations on November 4th, Putin said India has much potential with no doubts that it will achieve outstanding results in terms of development. “India will achieve outstanding results in terms of its development – there are no doubts – and almost one-and-a-half billion people: now that’s potential,” the Russian President said, according to a Reuters translation of the speech originally delivered in Russian.
It is believed that with the forthcoming six-month-long winter months it could pause and slow the movements of the Russian and Ukraine Army– if not permanently stop the war that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed entire cities. Every passing day will make it difficult for the tanks and artillery to move due to heavy snow and freezing weather.
In such a situation, it would be an opportune moment for peace talks between the two nations.
In such a scenario, India which is a friend of both East and the West has the ability to act as a mediator and end the conflict but much depends on whether Ukraine and Russia have softened up enough to talk the language of peace and disengagement. Another possibility that cannot be ruled out is a joint mediation effort by India, Israel, and U.A.E. All three of them collectively have the weight to make Russia and Ukraine talk the language of peace provided it fits their mood and timetable.