India abstains on UN resolution but issues sharper statement, Ukraine seeks its support

India on Saturday abstained on a US-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Security Council that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, but sharpened its language by flagging three important concerns — respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, the UN charter and international law—without naming Russia.

Hours later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that he “urged India to give political support in the UN Security Council”. “Spoke with Prime Minister @narendramodi. Informed of the course of Ukraine repulsing Russian aggression. More than 100,000 invaders are on our land. They insidiously fire on residential buildings. Urged India to give us political support in UN Security Council. Stop the aggressor together!” he tweeted.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Zelenskyy had “briefed” Modi about the conflict in Ukraine. Modi expressed his deep anguish about the loss of lives and property due to the conflict, it said and reiterated his call for an “immediate cessation of violence” and a return to dialogue, and “expressed India’s willingness to contribute in any way towards peace efforts”. While Modi had appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for “immediate cessation of violence”, this is the first time that he has expressed his willingness to participate in peace process. Modi also conveyed deep concern for the safety and security of Indian citizens, including students, present in Ukraine. “He sought facilitation by Ukrainian authorities to expeditiously and safely evacuate Indian citizens,” the PMO said.

While Russia—which chaired the Security Council meeting since it holds the presidency for the month of February—vetoed the resolution, China too abstained along with United Arab Emirates. The remaining 11 members— including the US, the UK and France — voted in favour of the unsuccessful resolution.

Though India’s statement after the vote did not name Russia, it is stronger than previous statements made at the Security Council on the issue in the last one month or so. The vote and the explanation by TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, came after sustained diplomatic pressure was mounted by the US-led Western bloc as well as Russia.

With strategic partners on both sides, India’s voting and statement were a manifestation of its diplomatic tightrope walk. A top Indian diplomat told The Indian Express, “The resolution was dead on arrival…so votes and statements were made to display our positions, principles and interests. India took a call to abstain in view of its interests, while the statement underlined its principles.”

While its abstention will be viewed as siding with Russia, its statement on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, UN Charter and international law will be perceived as in sync with its Western partners’ views. But India still stopped short of condemning Russia’s actions, much to the Western bloc’s dismay.

In its explanation, India made five key points:

First, it said that it is “deeply disturbed”, but did not name Russia at all. India’s permanent representative at the UN said “India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine.” Earlier, it had expressed “regret” and “deep concern”.

Second, it reiterated its appeal for “cessation of violence and hostilities”. “We urge that all efforts are made for the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities,” Tirumurti said. This was conveyed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russian President Vladimir Putin as well during the phone call, but at that time he had only mentioned “cessation of violence” — so adding “hostilities” amounted to sharpening the criticism. “No solution can ever be arrived at the cost of human lives,” the Indian envoy said as Ukraine has been claiming a high number of casualties including civilians.

Third, it flagged its core concern about the Indian nationals. There are about 16,000 Indian nationals, mostly students, still there. “We are also deeply concerned about the welfare and security of the Indian community, including a large number of Indian students, in Ukraine,” Tirumurti said. Earlier this week, Modi had spoken to Putin about them and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has also spoken to his counterparts in Russia, Ukraine and four neighbouring countries — Poland, Hungary, Slovak Republic and Romania. The first batch of students will be coming by road and then by flight via Bucharest, Romania.

Fourth, it touched upon “territorial integrity and sovereignty”, which was a new theme. “The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. All member states need to honour these principles in finding a constructive way forward,” Tirumurti said.

And fifth, it advocated diplomacy. “Dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment,” he said. “It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. We must return to it. For all these reasons, India has chosen to abstain on this resolution.”

In the wee hours of Saturday, the UN Security Council voted on the draft resolution brought by the US and Albania and co-sponsored by several other nations including Australia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom.

The resolution had reaffirmed the Security Council’s commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. It “deplored in the strongest terms” Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” and decided that Russia “shall immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and shall refrain from any further unlawful threat or use of force against any UN member state”.

The resolution also said that Russia “shall immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders”.

It also said Moscow “shall immediately and unconditionally reverse the decision related to the status of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.”

But India did not endorse the harsh language used in the resolution condemning Russia’s actions and decided to abstain because it wants to maintain a balance between the US-led bloc and Russia and it has strategic partners on both sides.


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