Can India broker peace The Statesman 15 Nov 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Can India broker peace The Statesman 15 Nov 2022

          Jaishankar’s recent visit to Russia was watched with keen interest. It was believed that India would officially offer to mediate between Moscow and Kiev, after all PM Modi has spoken to Putin five times and Zelensky thrice since the war began. It was Modi who had stated that ‘this is not an era of war,’ to Putin, a phrase repeated by Jaishankar in Moscow. Mexico had suggested in the UN General Assembly that the most ideal group to negotiate a ceasefire would be the Pope, UN Secretary General and PM Modi. Earlier this year, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had suggested hosting peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, alongside PM Modi.

There was no official mention of India negotiating between the two warring nations at the end Jaishankar’s Moscow visit, though he could have conveyed Modi’s suggestions on the subject. With winter approaching and an expected stalemate in operations alongside an energy crisis in Ukraine and Europe, calls for talks would gain momentum. Gen Mark Miley, Chairman of the US Chiefs of staff suggested that a lull in the fighting in winters would be ideal for talks.

Jaishankar stated that India, ‘strongly advocates a return to dialogue and diplomacy. We are clearly on the side of peace, respect for international law and support for the UN Charter. I would say that for any initiative that de-risks the global economy and stabilizes the global order at this stage; India will be supportive.’ India has been hinting on brokering talks.

During his Moscow visit, Jaishankar reiterated India’s decision to continue with its procurements from Russia. He stated, ‘it is our fundamental obligation to ensure that the Indian consumer has the best possible access, on the most advantageous terms, to international markets. If (procuring Russian oil) works to my advantage, I would like to keep that going.’ India continuing its procurements conveys that India desires to remain a key but quiet player in the region.

It was presumed that India’s oil procurements from Russia would have diminished its reputation in Ukraine. It is not so. Jaishankar and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, met on the sidelines of the India-ASEAN summit. As per Dmytro they discussed, ‘ways to end Russia’s war on Ukraine and global food security,’ and as per Jaishankar, ‘recent developments in the conflict, the grain initiative and nuclear concerns.’ PM Modi discussed peace initiatives with Zelensky in his 04 Oct talks.

          As per the New York Times, India was the lead nation which pushed Russia to permit export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. It also intervened when Russia was shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, compelling it to back down. The New York Times stated, ‘Throughout the war, India has quietly assisted during a few pivotal moments like these.’ India insists that the war is impacting the global south, which implies under-developed and developing nations and hence peace is essential.

Putin praising India in recent days is not without intention. He has praised Indian development under PM Modi and strong Indo-Russian ties. Until India adopted a neutral approach to the Russo-Ukraine crisis, India’s Indo-Pacific strategy and joining the QUAD was criticized by both Putin and Lavrov. Currently Putin seeks Indian support as the war continues unabated with Russia facing strong Ukrainian opposition. While Putin is open to talks, Zelensky is unwilling, banking on western support. There are inputs that Biden is quietly pushing Zelensky to accept talks.

While the world hopes that India would broker peace, the US desires that India reduce its dependence on Russia. The US state department spokesperson, Ned Price, stated, ‘Russia isn’t a reliable source of energy and security assistance. It’s not only in the interest of Ukraine or of the region, India decrease its dependence on Russia over time, but it’s also in India’s own bilateral interest, given what we’ve seen from Russia.’ The US has been demanding that India change its approach of neutrality and join it in criticizing Russia. The US is aware that its price cap on Russian oil will only be effective if India accepts it. In case India adopts the US stance, its influence on Russia would diminish.

Currently, both, the US and Russia seek Indian support, while India desires to be a voice of reason, an advocate of peace and a friend to all while seeking the best economic deal for its populace. The question is whether this approach will work and at what cost.  

India currently faces its biggest challenge from China. Russia had brokered the first set of talks between India and Chinese foreign and defence ministers on its soil in Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits. Since the commencement of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has been banking on China for support. China is presently the largest purchaser of Russian oil while North Korea; China’s ally, is supplying Russia with ammunition. Hence Russia will either stay neutral or support China in the event of an India-China conflict.

This view was visible when Russia’s ambassador to India, Denis Alipov, stated in a press conference in Sept, ‘We do not want to get involved in the resolution of bilateral disputes between the two countries. We only encourage them to find a quick and peaceful resolution to border disputes.’ India is compelled to bank on its western allies to counter China. A tough balancing act but essential for India’s security.

Ideally, India must lead in building global consensus for peace in Ukraine by roping in European nations impacted by the war. However this is no easy. There is no consensus on what talks should centre around. If they involve return of captured territory, Moscow will renege. If they involve sticking to current ground positions, Zelensky and the US may not be willing. Return of Crimea is unnegotiable for Russia. Finally, should UN peacekeeping forces be deployed to broker peace, after all Russia would never accept NATO forces.

If India seeks to cement itself as a responsible player, it must project itself as the nation which can negotiate global crisis. India has the diplomatic ability to do so as also is trusted by the majority. It is time it takes the initiative.