‘We call India Vishwaguru’: Ukraine pushes for Delhi’s greater role in crisis
Ukrainian first deputy foreign minister Emine Dzhaparova said unless the Ukraine war is resolved on fair basis, “it will be yet another step towards bigger war”
NEW DELHI: Ukraine is keen to step up political engagement with India, especially at the level of the prime minister and national security adviser, as part of efforts to find a resolution to the war triggered by Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian first deputy foreign minister Emine Dzhaparova said on Monday. The 39-year-old journalist-turned-politician, who considers Sathya Sai Baba as her spiritual guru, told HT in an interview that Ukraine envisages a “greater role” and greater involvement for India in efforts to end the war. Dzhaparova delivered a message from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that sought a phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and invited him to visit Kyiv. Ukraine also wants a security dialogue between the NSAs of the two sides, she said. Edited excerpts:
How serious are the concerns about Ukraine’s military preparedness, especially its air defence, as depicted in documents leaked on social media over the past few days?
Let us not be in a rush in making conclusions on this issue. It’s always sensitive when any classified information becomes public. But I hope the damage would not be there when it comes to these materials, and I think this is not the right moment to comment on this issue because, like, let us wait and see.
How would you assess the fighting on the frontlines of the conflict?
The war, we don’t call it a conflict. We call it a non-provoked war. The harshest battlefield is on the east, namely Bakhmut. We are preparing for the counter-offensive that might take place soon. We believe it will be an efficient counter-offensive and it will be crucial because if it’s efficient, then we might involve diplomatic efforts, even though and despite Russia’s messages [that it] is willing to have peace, it’s not. Russia is the country that invaded and attacked us. If it wanted to be a peaceful country, it would not attack Ukraine. So, this is a lie Russia has been feeding all of us with. The only thing and the only way we [can] actually put Russia on the table of negotiations is [gaining] a military advantage and tactical success on the battlefield. What I have to be clear about is Russia cannot achieve their military goals. Russia’s initial plan was to take control of Ukraine in a week or so. The group of negotiators from Russia who came to Belarus, they put the maps on the table and they said in a bold manner, ‘We’re going to kill you here, there and there.’ They pointed out spots where they were planning to kill the Ukrainian army and Ukrainians, but they failed to do so. They failed to occupy Moreover, Ukraine has been able to push back and [retake] thousands of square kilometres of occupied territories.
To cut a long story short, there is a clear possibility to resolve this war on a fair basis, because if it’s not resolved on a fair basis, if we again choose the language of appeasement, be sure it will be yet another step towards bigger war. Because the lesson from Crimea teaches us one very simple thing. If aggression is not stopped, it becomes bigger. If impunity is allowed, it becomes bigger, and apart from Putin, we have other countries who are watching closely how the international community would deal with the crimes that Russia has committed in Crimea, Ukraine and other occupied territories. And it’s a huge seduction for many countries. I think that impunity is crucial, and justice is crucial.
Ukraine has had almost unstinted support from Europe but countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America haven’t taken sides. Recently, your foreign minister said, ‘War is a time when you have to make a choice.’ How do you look at the stand taken by countries in these regions?
Our minister is right – it’s always black and white when war is there, especially the war in Ukraine. We are sometimes shocked by the propaganda that Russia still tries to impose, saying Ukraine is a source of food insecurity, that it is because of Ukraine, the US and NATO, we have this war. But let me remind you that in 2014, when Russia attacked Ukraine, we didn’t have the NATO issue in Ukraine. We were a neutral country. We didn’t have an article in the Constitution about NATO or EU membership. So, I think it’s just yet another justification of their own crimes. Going back to the question about other countries, I think the main thing that might give you a sense [why] these countries are neutral is because they think that it’s distant geographically and physically.
It’s like somewhere in Europe, like Europe was not empathetic enough when wars happened in our region, right? We understand this. With due respect to these countries, we see the repercussions of the war even in Africa with grain supplies, with energy supplies in Asia. It’s an outcome of the war. But then the other issue, which is sometimes underestimated, is...the [issue of the] architecture of global security, which is totally ruined. Multilateralism is in crisis and we see that because we are dealing with a P5 country which is supposed to guarantee security not only to Ukraine but to all other countries, but instead, it is the biggest troublemaker in the world. So how can we feel secure? If someone thinks it’s not about this or that country, it’s not, unfortunately. Even Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi [and] the motto of the G20 presidency of ‘One earth, one family, one future’. Absolutely correct thing, because everything is interconnected and this is why we believe India should play a greater role.
A year after the invasion, how do you look at relations between Ukraine and India? How can India play a greater role?
This is why I’m here, to bring our countries closer. I’m not in the position of lecturing on how India should do this or that. It’s your domestic issue and we respect your domestic decisions, be it economy or military contracts or any other thing. But why I am here is to actually speak about the reality in my country. When it comes to its ancient history of 1,500 years, Ukraine never attacked any other country. We never had a chauvinistic, imperialistic approach to expansionist policy, of attacking other neighbours and taking more and more territories, land grabbing. It’s not about Ukraine. It’s about the Russian way of dealing with their neighbours. We are a peace-loving country and the only thing that we wanted to live in is our own future. India knows what it means to fight for your own identity, your own independent future. You know this post-colonial thing is very accurate. The same is happening with us. Ukraine is only taking its real independence back, feeling who we are, what kind of nation we are, what do we want, what language do we want to speak. That’s obviously not the Russian language, because we’ve been forced to speak Russian for decades.
This is something that makes us very close to each other, and then the other thing is non-violent resistance. Mahatma Gandhi is a symbol for my country of this heritage, of the importance of fighting for peace. It should not be taken for granted. This is what we are trying to do.
And we call India Vishwaguru, that’s something that also puts us on a common path because we promote values, this voice is a civilisational voice. My visit here is with one clear goal – to make our dialogue more intensified.
I have a special mission to deliver a message from my President, and I brought a letter signed by my president, we requested a phone conversation between our leaders. We invite Prime Minister [Narendra Modi] to pay a visit to Kyiv. We invite National Security Advisor, Mr Doval, to pay a visit to Kyiv and to talk to his counterpart Mr Andriy Yermak. Our leaders have entrusted both Yermak and Doval to coordinate our bilateral track, especially on security issues. So, it’s something that should bring our countries together.
It’s been six months since Prime Minister Modi told President Putin that this is not the era of war. Things haven’t changed since then. Do you still think there is room for diplomacy and dialogue to end the war?
There is always room for diplomacy and dialogue. We never refuse to have dialogue and diplomacy. We welcome every effort that comes from third countries that are aimed at the resolution of the war. The only thing is that sometimes it might be tricky because we insist that the resolution of the war should be based on the peace formula of President Zelenskyy. These are 10 simple points that should be fundamental for any negotiations. We feel it is essential to follow [this formula]. When it comes to the greater engagement of India, especially with regard to the Presidency of G20, we think it would be important to engage Ukrainian officials in the meetings of G20 [and] the September summit...President Zelenskyy might be invited and we actually consider and expect the invitation, probably online, because my president is very restricted in his ability to travel. Then, there will be an event on the parliament-level, and our speaker, Ruslan Stefanchuk, can be a guest. I think that giving forums for discussion is really, really important because even though the focus is on economy, but what we see on the ground is that the economy suffers and instead of dealing with something that we all share as humanity, we have to deal with the war and its repercussions. So I think that the message that I bring would be heard.
The Indian side has said the guest countries for the G20 process have already been decided. Are you still hopeful that President Zelenskyy will get to address the G20 Summit as he did last year?
Things are dynamic. We don’t live in a world that is like a stone. It’s an ecosystem that consists of different parts. It’s a very live organism that changes day by day. A year ago, we never thought we would have this support from the world. Nobody thought Ukraine would resist that long a year ago. A year ago, we didn’t think we would have Patriot systems, Abrams tanks or HIMARS systems in Ukraine. A year ago, we never thought Russia would be expelled from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, or the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. A year ago, we never thought Sweden and Finland would apply for NATO membership. This is what I mean, that sometimes something that we don’t see as a perspective happens, and this is how it should be. This is why I’m here, to kind of deliver the message that comes from Ukraine, to explain to the Indian people what is the reality on the ground, to explain that it’s about everyone. It’s not something that happens in another part of the world, it has a direct impact because the country that invaded Ukraine is Russia.
What do you make of the peace plan proposed by China? What kind of a role do you think India could play in helping end the conflict?
In a diplomatic manner, [India could play] a greater role, bigger engagement and greater involvement in the attempt to resolve the war. The only thing as I said, and I really want to stress this – it’s important what would be the basis of this resolution of the war. Here, we should be synchronised because it’s important to know what is the will of the Ukrainian people. We cannot discuss Ukraine without Ukraine. We cannot discuss the fate of Ukraine with Russia. We should actually shape [things] for us, where the Ukrainian voice would be heard and the position of Ukrainian people would be taken into account.
When it comes to China, well, it’s not a peace plan. It’s the position of China. It’s a document that depicts the position of China on the war in Ukraine. There are some constructive elements within this document that we do share fully, but there are some sensitive issues. But I think that Ukraine has framed its own peace formula and, as I said, it’s President Zelenskyy’s 10-point plan. This is our vision. This is the base for any negotiations that might be performed by any of the leaders who is willing to play a greater role.
President Zelenskyy has said he unveiled the peace plan at the last G20 Summit and he wants it to be implemented during the current G20 presidency.
Yes, we are frank in saying this. Some things might happen, some things might not, but we think it’s a common responsibility. We strongly believe the resolution of this war is a common responsibility, again because of a P5 country’ aggression. Because by invading Ukraine, Russia shows to the whole world how one can behave and a bigger [country] attacks a smaller one and impunity is there, and Russia is allowed to do what it’s been doing in a very criminal way. It means no one can be secure. We live in a difficult geopolitical [situation]. India lives in a turbulent geopolitical [situation]. So I think for India, it’s very pragmatic to diversify options with [regard to] military supplies and energy supplies, to be more pragmatic on the bilateral track, for example, with Ukraine. For example, National Security Adviser Doval has been visiting Moscow three times. So we think that in order to balance that, he might also come to Kyiv. This is what we call a pragmatic approach because while there is a conversation with one side, there should be a conversation with another side.
Did you raise the issue of humanitarian and other aid during your meetings in New Delhi?
Yes, of course. We are very grateful to India for its readiness to provide humanitarian assistance. There are several projects that have now been discussed with India. But there are two more things that are new in our agenda. First is the demining process. Ukraine is the most polluted country in the world when it comes to the mining of land and sea. The territory covered by mines is as big as Gujarat. This will have long-term implications for demining, which could take decades. It’s huge and we will have to demine. So, our request was to help with proper demining equipment, technologies and expertise. And then there is reconstruction and rebuilding. It’s a matter not only of assistance that might be given, but also a matter of mutual interest because we invite big companies to reconstruct Ukraine, the bridges, roads, schools, kindergartens and hospitals. There are a bunch of infrastructure projects that have already been developed and will be [taken up] during a conference in London this summer that will be dedicated to recovery. The idea is not only about donating money when it comes to countries, but also involving big companies to reconstruct Ukraine.
What is the status of the Black Sea grain initiative and can India help in prolonging that arrangement?
It was a very essential step to have an agreement and to open up at least one port for the export of Ukrainian grain because our economy suffers a lot. Every month, we have a gap of $5 billion between our expenditure and income. Agriculture is one of the main sources of our economy. It suffered the most and we had to pursue new fields for exporting this grain and implementing our contracts. Prolonging this agreement for two months was important and essential, but I have to be clear that Russia has been exploiting it every time when the deadline comes closer. They try to get as much as possible in terms of their political benefits and ...making others talk to them. It’s again a classic of Russian diplomacy. But what is important is that because of Turkey’s efforts, namely the efforts of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan...and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, this grain deal happened and we believe it should be prolonged because it’s essential not only for the economy of Ukraine, but also for the food security of other countries.
Our foreign minister has said India played a role in conveying Ukraine’s concerns about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Russian side. Could you tell us more about these concerns and whether they have been fully addressed?
It’s a source of permanent concern while Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is occupied by Russia. So our position is clear that it should be demilitarised and this is the only way we can secure the biggest nuclear plant in Europe, which is bigger than Chernobyl. That might lead us to a huge catastrophe. The missile attacks and shelling Of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant showed us Russia is very irresponsible with regards to this. The only way we can secure it...is to throw Russian troops out of Zaporizhzhia. But it’s not happening as of now. I think [till this is done], we will be in permanent stress and [have] permanent concerns about the possible developments there.
But we’ve been alerting the international community, saying this is something we always have to specifically deal with as a priority issue when it comes to the war. Many countries and Mr Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the IAEA also put in a lot of effort to have this situation controlled.
How many Indian students have gone back to Ukraine and what is their status?
We have approximately 2,000 Indian students in Ukraine, mostly in the western part and most of them in medical universities. We are proud of having Indian students because I think it’s the best we can be linked to each other, which is a human contact, which is a people-to-people contact. I think we will have more students after the resolution of the war but we really did our best to evacuate the students from Ukraine in a secure way. We used to have more than 20,000 Indian students. Within an academic mobility initiative formed by Ukraine, we have approximately 14,000 Indian students who have access to education. More importantly, these students can now join online classes and have the option to appear for a qualification or final exam in India without going back to Ukraine because it’s an issue of security. There is an obligation to pass this exam in Ukraine.
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