Having supplied military hardware to Pakistan, Ukraine now wants to enter into a durable defence relationship with India. Subjected to competing pulls from Russia and the European Union, Ukraine is looking at Asia, especially India, for collaboration in a large number of areas, including civil nuclear energy, visiting Ukraine Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko told The Hindu in an interview.
“India is a very important part of what we need to understand and it is part of our future destiny. Today the world is changing and being simply Europe-centred is not the answer to the future of [Ukraine's] survival and progress,” said Mr. Gryshchenko on his first visit to the country.
Home to niche technologies and having been subjected to a nuclear accident in 1986, Ukraine has lessons in nuclear safety for India because this sector still caters to 45-50 per cent of the country's energy needs. Most reactors are based on the same technology offered by the Russians for the Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu and a large number of Ukrainian engineers were working there till protesters forced a shutdown.
“We are not simply a transit country which guarantees the best and safest transit routes for gas from Russia to Europe,” said the Minister in a reference to this issue that is making the news after the former Prime Minister and leader of the ‘Orange Revolution', Yulia Tymoshenko, was jailed for abuse in office while finalising a gas deal with Russia. “There are a number of areas where Ukraine can be useful,” he said.
India and Ukraine are understood to be working on an energy pact which will subsume a memorandum of understanding between the civil nuclear regulators as also cover sectors such as gas and solar energy.
But for the immediate future, it is defence which will gain the most attention. Kiev is already modernising the An-32s, backbone of the Indian Air Force's transport and troop replenishment fleet, and wants a more wider-ranging relationship. Terming defence ties a specialised matter that should be discussed by experts, Mr. Gryshchenko said the two countries did not have political issues that would hinder a comprehensive military technical relationship.
India and Ukraine could begin by coordinating efforts against pirates off the Gulf of Aden, described by the Minister as a “scourge that affects both countries,” exchanging notes on U.N. peacekeeping operations and moving towards interoperability between the militaries through joint exercises.
“We are openly interested in helping India to upgrade its capabilities to negate any intention [by another country] to start aggressive action. We welcome any opportunity to provide India defence systems that contribute to increasing stability in the region.”
Mr. Gryshchenko conceded that this could only brought about by regular high-level exchanges and said the two sides were trying to work out dates for his President Viktor Yanukovych (who defeated Ms. Tymoshenko in the polls last year) to visit India. Ukraine is also hoping for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to also include Kiev in his itinerary the next time he heads for Europe.