Russia-Ukraine crisis: India says no immediate plans to evacuate citizens

Updated on Feb 18, 2022 02:16 AM IST

Asked if India can play a role in bridging the gap between the US and Russia, the external affairs ministry said the Indian citizens and students in Ukraine are its focus rather than anything larger than that

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy inspects weapons during a visit to Ukrainian coast guards in Mariupol, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine (AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy inspects weapons during a visit to Ukrainian coast guards in Mariupol, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine (AP)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

India said on Thursday it has no immediate plans to evacuate citizens or diplomatic staff from Ukraine amid tensions over the build-up of Russian troops, though restrictions have been removed on flights between the two countries to facilitate the return of Indians who want to come back.

Flights between India and Ukraine, both direct and through other countries, are operating and the situation at the Indian embassy in Kyiv is normal, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a weekly news briefing. He reiterated India’s call for a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic dialogue.

The US and its allies have said Russia has amassed some 130,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and officials of western countries have repeatedly warned of the possibility of an invasion as early as this week. Reports that Russia has withdrawn some troops involved in exercises near the Ukrainian border were greeted with scepticism by NATO and the US.

Also Read: What a Russia-Ukraine war could mean for the Indian economy

“I don’t think any decision on evacuation has been taken. Our embassy continues to function normally and provide services to Indian nationals in Ukraine. As [an Indian embassy] advisory said, those who are [engaged] in non-essential activities, we request them to leave, as well as not undertake non-essential travel,” Bagchi said in response to questions on the situation in Ukraine.

Watch: US general warns of provocation in Indo-Pacific region, says China will harp on Ukraine crisis

He said there are “no immediate evacuation plans”, and restrictions on the number of flights and passengers under an air bubble arrangement with Ukraine have been removed. Indian carriers are being encouraged to operate charter flights to Ukraine, and there are flights through other routes such as Istanbul, Almaty, Sharjah and Dubai.

Bagchi declined to go into details about India’s assessment of the ground situation, saying: “Yes, we saw some comments that the [number of] Russian troops might have come down, but we also saw comments saying no.”

The situation in Ukraine is a “live issue”, and the embassy in Kyiv is monitoring developments and has issued several advisories for Indians, he said. Control rooms are functioning at the embassy and in the external affairs ministry in New Delhi and there is a 24-hour helpline at the mission.

“We continue to monitor the situation on the ground and we will take further steps, if required, depending on how the situation goes,” Bagchi said.

“Our focus is, and remains, on the Indian citizens and students...rather than anything larger than that, and in terms of what we need to do to ensure that they are safe and they are provided the information that we have,” he said in response to a question on whether India can play a role in bridging the gap between the US and Russia in view of its close relations with both rivals.

India’s position, Bagchi said, has been clear and consistent and was outlined in a recent statement at the UN Security Council and remarks made by external affairs minister S Jaishankar in recent media interactions.

“We have been supportive of an immediate de-escalation of tensions and a resolution of the issue through sustained diplomatic dialogue. We also welcome efforts being undertaken under the Normandy format for the implementation of the Minsk agreement,” he said.

Talks under the Normandy format involve representatives of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France, and the group has been meeting to address the increased tensions. The Minsk agreement was finalised in 2014 by the trilateral contact group comprising Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to end fighting in the Donbas region.

“We would like to see a diplomatic way and a peaceful resolution of the situation,” Bagchi said, adding that India is currently not a party to any of the discussions though it has good relations with all the parties involved.

India has not spoken on Russia’s actions along the border with Ukraine in view of the close ties between New Delhi and Moscow. It has pushed for a peaceful resolution that protects the “legitimate security interests of all countries”.

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