As fighting intensifies, India to move Ukraine embassy out to Poland

Hours after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on Sunday afternoon to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine and its impact on India, New Delhi decided to temporarily relocate the Indian Embassy in Ukraine to Poland.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman were among those who attended the meeting.

Over the days since the start of the war on February 24, majority of the Indian diplomats had moved from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to Lviv, a city that’s a short distance from the Ukraine-Poland border. But the Indian Embassy in Kyiv was kept functional, with a few officials stationed there to coordinate with the Ukrainian authorities on the evacuation of Indians from the country.

But with Russian attacks moving westwards into Ukraine — including an airstrike early Sunday on a military airbase near Lviv that killed 35 people — the Indian government has now decided to shift its base from there to Poland.

In a statement on Sunday, the Ministry of External Affairs said, “In view of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Ukraine, including attacks in the western parts of the country, it has been decided that the Indian Embassy in Ukraine will be temporarily relocated in Poland.” The situation will be reassessed in the light of further developments, it said.

It is learnt that the recent incident of an Indian cruise missile accidentally landing in Pakistan was also discussed at the CCS meeting.

The officials who were part of the meeting included National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, PM’s Principal Secretary P K Mishra, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the CCS meeting was held to “review India’s security preparedness, and the prevailing global scenario in the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine”.

The Prime Minister “was briefed on latest developments and different aspects of India’s security preparedness in the border areas as well as in the maritime and air domain”. This language also indicated that the issue of the Indian missile landing in Pakistan by accident was also discussed.

It stated that Modi was “also briefed on the latest developments in Ukraine, including the details of Operation Ganga to evacuate Indian nationals, along with some citizens of India’s neighbouring countries, from Ukraine”. The PM directed that “all possible efforts should be made to bring back the mortal remains of Naveen Shekharappa, who died in Kharkiv”.

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Shekharappa, a 21-year old medical student was killed in the initial days of the war after he had stepped out to buy supplies, but got caught in shelling.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, India’s primary concern had been to evacuate the over 22,000 Indian nationals, most of them students, who were stuck in various cities inside Ukraine.

However, another concern within the establishment is the supply of weapons systems and spare parts for Indian weapons as a large part of them are of Soviet or Russian origin. A week ago, Defence Minister Singh had met the three service chiefs to take stock of the situation, vis-à-vis pending Russian weapons imports, delivery and reserves of spares, and the maintenance of existing Russian-origin weapons.

While officials within the defence establishment have assured that the armed forces have spares for more than six months, with multiple nations imposing sanctions on Russia, the concern is that it might get tougher for India to ensure a steady supply of the spares.

From fighter jets, tanks and submarines, to air defence systems, frigates and rifles, more than 60 per cent of the weapons available with Indian armed forces are of Russian origin. Many of the weapons also have Ukrainian components, including missiles and gas turbines for warships.

India has already signed agreements worth over US$ 12 billion with Russia for some significant weapons to be delivered in the coming years. In the short term, both Indian and Russian sides have assured that the delivery of the four of the five S400 Triumf air defence units that India had bought in 2018 will continue as per schedule. There could be some delay, but that too is unlikely.

Apart from that, India is waiting for the delivery of two Talwar-class frigates from Russia, for which Ukraine had supplied the gas turbines. Ukraine was also supposed to supply gas turbines for two more such frigates, which will be built in India though.

India is also taking two nuclear ballistic submarines on lease from Russia — Chakra 3 and Chakra 4 — the first of which is expected to arrive in 2025.

All these projects could be jeopardised under the threat of sanctions. While the United States had been lenient with India in imposing sanctions under their 2017 law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), but in the changed global situation, there are concerns that the US may not be as tolerant as India continues to buy sophisticated weapons from Russia.

While India has been trying to expand its base of buying weapons, Russia has been for decades India’s largest defence exporter, and India has bought weapons worth over US$ 35 billion in the last 20 years from it.

While most people in the Indian defence establishment do not doubt Russia’s capacity to deliver the weapons or provide spares, how to pay for them, circumventing the global sanctions will be tricky. As the West tries to isolate Russia, cutting it off from the global SWIFT system, and most western banks shutting down their Russia operations, the Reserve Bank of India has asked Indian banks to explore other avenues to make payments to Russia.

However, officials within the defence establishment maintain that it is still too early to take a call on what kinds of issues Indian forces might face in the long run because of the conflict and the sanctions. But the situation has once again put India’s reliance on Russia for weapons under the spotlight.

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