Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister visits India

The first visit to India by a Ukrainian minister since the war began comes as New Delhi has refused to condemn the Russian invasion and maintains close ties with the Kremlin.

Emine Dzhaparova
Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine's first deputy foreign minister, arrived for a four-day visit to India on April 10, 2023 [File: Abdullah Unver/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine’s first deputy foreign minister, has arrived in India for a four-day visit, the first by a Ukrainian government minister since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

Dzhaparova is expected to hold talks with officials from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, including Meenakshi Lekhi, the minister of state for external affairs and culture. She will also meet Deputy National Security Adviser Vikram Misri.

What is on the agenda?

Dzhaparova, a Crimean Tartar Muslim, is expected to meet with delegates from the Ministry of External Affairs to discuss the current situation in Ukraine and global issues of mutual interest, according to the Indian government.

India’s Hindu newspaper reported that Dzhaparova would call on India to send a “strong message for peace” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will visit India in July for a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. He will return again in September for a G20 summit.

The Indian Council of World Affairs, a New Delhi-based think tank, said on Twitter that Dzhaparova would also give a talk on Tuesday called Russia’s War in Ukraine: Why the World Should Care.

Rajeswari Rajagopalan – the director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi – said she believes India will use the visit to discuss issues that include “food security, energy security and a whole range of fertiliser shortages”.

The war in Ukraine has had a major impact on global supply chains and international trade in food and fertilisers, which have disproportionately affected the Global South. Both Ukraine and Russia are leading suppliers of key food commodities, such as wheat, corn and sunflower oil, and Russia is also a top global exporter of fertiliser.

“India also projects itself as the voice of the Global South, so it is taking the message for a large set of countries who may be facing certain difficulties caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Rajagopalan said.

Energy infrastructure

The Hindu newspaper cited diplomatic sources as saying Ukraine has requested more humanitarian aid from India, including drugs, medical equipment, and energy equipment to repair power infrastructure damaged during the war.

In October, Russia began an assault on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, hitting thermal and hydropower plants and the electrical grid. The attacks damaged about 60 per cent of Ukraine’s power plants and more than 40 per cent of its high-voltage grid infrastructure. As a result, Ukrainians endured rolling blackouts from October to February.

Warmer weather and efficient repairs have dramatically improved the situation in recent months. As a result, Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko recently authorised energy exports after the system had produced extra capacity for almost two months.

The energy transmission systems operator Ukrenergo, however, has warned against complacency, and Ukraine’s energy companies are now looking to stock up on equipment ahead of anticipated attacks next winter.

“There are companies in India that produce transformers,” said Antonina Antonsha, a spokeswoman for DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy provider. She said it can be a long process lasting nine to 12 months.

India’s position on the Ukraine War: a diplomatic balancing act

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, India has taken a non-aligned approach to the war as it looks to maintain good diplomatic ties with both the West and Russia.

“India is trying to play neutral,” Rajagopalan said. “India hosted the Russian foreign minister, [Sergey] Lavrov, a few months ago, and now we are hosting the Ukrainian deputy foreign minister.”

India has enjoyed a close relationship and close defence ties with Russia for decades. Moscow is India’s largest weapons supplier. After the outbreak of the Ukraine war, New Delhi ramped up its Russian oil imports at cut-rate prices. In December, India imported 1.2 million barrels of Russian crude oil, 33 times more than a year earlier.

In September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin and described their countries’ friendship as “unbreakable”. Two months later, Indian diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar echoed Modi during a visit to Moscow, calling the countries’ relationship “steady and time-tested”.

India has regularly abstained from voting on UN resolutions condemning the war in Ukraine. But it has also indirectly voiced some concerns over Russia’s actions, highlighting the importance of the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.

In September, Modi told Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan, “I know that today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this.”

The Indian government has also sought an open communication channel with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office since the outbreak of the war.

In October, Modi told Zelenskyy in a phone call that there could be “no military solution” to the war in Ukraine.

Three months later, Zelenskyy said he had sought India’s help in implementing a “peace formula” in another call with India’s prime minister.

Is Russia still a reliable partner for India?

Russia and India have enjoyed mutually beneficial relations since the Cold War. However, Rajagopalan said that since it invaded Ukraine, “Russia has become more of a liability than a partner.”

She points to Russia’s recent pivot towards China, marked by President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow in late March. India’s relationship with China has deteriorated since 2020 when fighting broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers along their land border in the Ladakh region.

Russia’s trade with China in the Chinese yuan has jumped a staggering 80 times higher since the war began.

“India is also trying to send a message to Russia that India is getting tired of its partnership with the Chinese and recent delays of military platforms,” Rajagopalan said.

In March, the Indian air force (IAF) announced that Russia could not honour its arms deliveries to India due to the war in Ukraine.

“The MiG-29 fighter jets and Sukhoi platforms were supposed to be delivered this year but have been postponed, and the IAF will suffer significantly because of those delays,” Rajagopalan said.

Source: Al Jazeera