Jaishankar leaves for Germany, France; focus remains on Russia

European counterparts expected to push for a tougher line from New Delhi on Moscow’s actions

February 17, 2022 10:29 pm | Updated 11:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. File

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. File | Photo Credit: AP

Amidst new flashpoints between Russia and the United States over Ukraine, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will leave for a visit to Germany and France, where he will meet counterparts from Europe and the U.S. for a number of meetings, including an EU Ministerial meeting on the Indo-Pacific. The visit, which follows close on his visit to Australia to attend the Quad Ministerial meeting, is similarly expected to be overshadowed by tensions in east Europe, where despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of troops withdrawal from the borders with Ukraine, NATO countries continue to warn of a possible “invasion”, as the Russian government expelled a senior American diplomat from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

When asked about India’s position, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson said that the government’s focus remains on ensuring the safety of Indian citizens, and urged them to leave by commercial flights, if possible, but that it had no “immediate evacuation plans” or plans to send in special aircraft to fly out Indian citizens from the Ukraine.

Giving details of Mr. Jaishankar’s six-day programme in Europe beginning Friday, the MEA said he will participate in a panel discussion on the Indo-Pacific at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), before he travels to Paris to meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday. In Munich, he will meet with the German Foreign Minister to discuss bilateral issues and will be present with other world leaders at the MSC, including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

In Paris, Mr. Jaishankar will join EU Ministers and others, including Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne for the “EU Ministerial Forum for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”, chaired by France, which holds the European Council Presidency at present.

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As The Hindu reported this week, European countries are asking India to change its stance on the ongoing tensions, and are expected to push Mr. Jaishankar for a tougher line on Russia during his visit. In Melbourne last week, India was seen to diverge from Quad partners at the Ministerial meetings, as well as in a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the issue of “Russian aggression” on Ukraine, an assessment India has not shared.

When asked about the differences within the Quad, which were widely commented on in Australian media, the MEA spokesperson said India continues to believe that a diplomatic solution is the way ahead.

“If the Australian media wishes to call it a split, that’s their choice. I don’t think that’s a correct characterisation of [India’s position]. I think [Mr. Jaishankar] spoke clearly. How India looks at the [Ukraine] issue is that it is a complicated issue and one in which each country has its own perspective,” Joint Secretary (External Publicity) Arindam Bagchi told journalists at the weekly media briefing on Thursday.

Mr. Bagchi said that the government was also trying to ensure more flights for Indians wishing to leave Ukraine, with reports that the present commercial airliners are charging high fares for tickets.

“There were a limited number of flights under the air bubble arrangements; the restriction on the number of flights and the passengers are being removed,” Mr. Bagchi said, referring to a decision by the Civil Aviation Ministry. “Indian carriers are being encouraged to operate charter flights between India and Ukraine. There are, of course, flights through other routes — Almaty, Dubai, Sharjah, Istanbul, etc.,” he added, and said that the Indian Embassy in Kiev remains in touch with citizens, and has asked them “not to panic”.

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