New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to “mediate” between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, ThePrint has learnt, hoping that the strong ties New Delhi shares with both countries could help achieve a breakthrough and push them towards peace.
The move comes as the war between the two countries entered its twelfth day and India remained engaged in the arduous task of evacuating its nationals from war-hit Ukraine.
Modi has spoken to Putin thrice, and Zelenskyy twice, since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on phone today with His Excellency Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. The two leaders discussed the evolving situation in Ukraine. President Putin briefed Prime Minister Modi on the status of negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian teams,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office Monday.
The statement added: “Prime Minister Modi welcomed the ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine and expressed hope that they would lead to cessation of the conflict. He suggested that a direct conversation between President Putin and President Zelenskyy may greatly assist the ongoing peace efforts.”
During the call, Modi expressed his “deep concern for the safety and security of the Indian students still remaining in Sumy”, a Ukrainian town near the Russian border, while President Putin briefed the Indian Prime Minister about the ongoing measures related to creating humanitarian corridors for facilitating evacuation of civilians, including Indian students.
India’s desire to play the role of a “mediator” comes in the background of relentless fighting in Ukrainian cities that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe, top diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
According to one diplomatic source, India has been “trying to balance both sides, calling for dialogue and diplomacy”. However, “some countries are also hopeful” that given Prime Minister Modi’s close ties with President Putin, “India should mediate, something that even Ukraine has also publicly urged”, the source said, referring to a statement by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“This shows that both sides are willing to listen to India.”
On Saturday, Kuleba had urged Prime Minister Modi to “reach out” to President Putin to stop the war, referring to the “special relations” between India and Russia.
According to the sources, India has been urged by other countries, too, to “leverage” its close ties with Russia to push President Putin to hold direct talks with President Zelenskyy and find a solution to “end the war”.
It is feared the war will also have an “adverse impact on the Indian economy”. While the Russia-Ukraine war is expected to impact oil prices in India, the country can witness a direct hit on its food security too.
“India is one of the largest consumers of Ukrainian agricultural products and if this war continues, it’ll be difficult for us to seed new harvests. So, even in terms of global and Indian food security, it’s in the best interest to stop this war,” the Ukrainian Foreign Minister had said last week.
According to sources, during his phone call with President Zelenskyy Monday, Modi made a “call for immediate cessation of violence and noted that India has always stood for peaceful resolution of issues and direct dialogue between the two parties”. The Prime Minister also urged the need for “quick and safe evacuation” of Indian students, about 700 of whom are stuck in Sumy, where intense fighting is on.
Sources said Modi planned to call both leaders on the same day keeping in mind the arduous evacuation of Indian students from Ukraine.
This comes after Moscow and Kyiv declared a ceasefire Monday to keep humanitarian corridors activated.
The Russian Armed Forces Monday announced a “silence regime” to operate the humanitarian corridors, while Russia blamed Ukraine for using “brute force” that is making evacuation difficult, a readout by the Kremlin on the Modi-Putin phone call stated.
However, Ukraine’s foreign ministry later said in a statement that the ceasefire talks have failed and blamed Russia for not stopping the attacks in Kiev, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kherson.
Russia-Ukraine conflict part of Quad discussions
The Russia-Ukraine war, it is learnt, was also discussed at the virtual Quad leaders’ meeting that took place Friday, when the US, India, Japan and Australia decided to come together to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine, while they differed on their stance against Russia.
On Monday, addressing an event organised by the Lowy Institute, Australian PM Scott Morrison said, “After months of planning, bullying, coercion and intimidation, Russia has invaded Ukraine. Australia strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In a strongly-worded message to Russia, he added, “We expect Russia to continue its brutal attacks, including bombarding residential areas, even nuclear facilities, with scant regard for civilian casualties or the broader catastrophic impact.”
“Everything points to a bloody and protracted conflict.”
On the Quad meeting, Morrison said, “We’ve reinvigorated the Quad partnership with India, Japan and the United States, with a new Leaders’ Dialogue that met again this past week to discuss the implications of the war in Europe specifically for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Israel also attempts mediation
Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, has also thanked PM Bennett for his efforts.
On Monday, Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Latvia to discuss the war.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)