India walks a tightrope over Crimea row

  • Jayanth Jacob, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Mar 20, 2014 01:53 IST

All about Crimea

India is faced with tricky foreign policy choices over the Crimea dispute and alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. With New Delhi’s traditional positions on territorial integrity and human rights being challenged, the government is putting up a balancing act.
India has to delicately balance its stated position on preserving territorial integrity and the demands of its trusted friend, Russia. New Delhi is yet to take a view on whether Russia annexing Crimea from Ukraine — a move that has irked the West — is right or wrong.

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“Greatly appreciate India’s reserve and objectivity,” President Vladimir Putin has told Russian parliament. Putin on Tuesday had called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the issue.
“Russians are happy with Indian position,” former diplomat MK Bhadrakumar said.

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A man plays accordion as people dance during celebrations in Sevastopol on March 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO

Russia being a time-tested friend, Singh had to reportedly underscore India's position on preserving the unity and territorial integrity of countries. He spoke of Russia’s security concerns and other interests like the Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine.

“It’s a balanced position, factoring in all aspects,” says an Indian official familiar with the developments.

Ahead of the elections, India is also faced with a tough choice of supporting a resolution on Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at Geneva later this month.

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Though the resolution moved by the US and the UK, among others, is expected to be watered down, it makes a mention of UN high commissioner Navi Pillay calling for an international probe into the alleged war crimes during the last phase of the Sri Lankan civil war.
A UN report suggests Sinhalese-dominated forces may have killed as many as 40,000 Tamils — a minority group in the island nation — towards the end of the war in 2009.

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Women present their bags to armed men in riot gear, performing identity and hand bag checks on people walking near the building of Crimea's regional parliament in Simferopol, Ukraine, Monday, March 17, 2014. AP

Traditionally, India is opposed to international probe on human rights issues. “We are yet to know about the final wording in the resolution,” said an Indian official.
India had voted against Sri Lanka in the last two UNHRC resolutions on account of domestic pressures in Tamil Nadu.

“...politics in Tamil Nadu and the emotional issue of the Tamils have always guided India’s policies on Sri Lanka,” added Bhadrakumar, who had served in Sri Lanka in the 1980s.
He, like many Indian officials, argues India no longer sees such issues through the prism of Kashmir alone.
The point-of-view has changed since the 1990s, with the India-US ties improving and Washington shedding its obsession about Kashmir at international forums.


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