The European Union (EU) was “not pleased” by India’s votes of abstention at the United Nations on Ukraine resolutions, but believes that India and the EU continue to share the same values on the global order, says the EU’s special envoy on the Indo-Pacific Gabriele Visentin, one of several western visitors to Delhi during the current crisis, who are seeking support for sanctions against Russia. Excerpts
We’re seeing a lot of visitors coming through India at this time, related to the Ukraine crisis. Tell us what brings you here as the EU’s Envoy on the Indo-Pacific.
Firstly, to show how the EU wants to engage even more with India. Also, to implement the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Obviously, India’s role in this strategy is paramount, be it bilaterally, be it regional.
In Munich last month External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said the situation in Ukraine and Europe, and the situation in the Indo-Pacific aren’t “analogous”. Do you agree, or do you think that what is happening in Europe, also impacts the Indo-Pacific?
I was present in Paris where Mr. Jaishankar gave the opening speech, and I have to say that the speech in Paris was not exactly on the line you mentioned. When he addressed the Munich Security Forum, the war had not started yet. When he addressed the EU Indo-Pacific ministerial in Paris, it had. So I think that this might have originated the change of tone between the two dates. But I think that there was a clear line on what he said, because he spoke about respect of the UN Charter, respect of territorial integrity, national sovereignty, international rules based order, and democracy, these are all concepts that he put forward at the Paris forum as universal. And we totally agree about this.
Even so, India contains continues to abstain from any resolution critical of Russia’s actions... And there have been 11 such votes at the United Nations UNGA UNSC, Human Rights Council, IAEA.
We were not pleased by the position of India at the UN; we would have welcomed a different vote [on resolutions on Ukraine], that’s for sure. Still, there were explanatory notes by India [EoV], and in those the right messages were sent. And we positively acknowledge that. We have said that a bolder stance is needed from all democracies in the face of this huge security, refugee and humanitarian crisis. We also welcome India’s humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
India has indicated it is discussing buying Russian oil at a discount, and looking at payment systems that would work around the sanctions regime of 40 countries against Russia. Later this week Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is expected to visit. What is the European Union’s reaction?
Let’s see what the future brings first of all, we cannot prevent or prejudge what will happen. But, of course, we will not welcome any act, which would help Russia to circumvent the U.S., its partners and the EU’s sanctions regime.
India has a traditional partnership with Russia, a military dependency on Russian hardware, spares, as well as transfer of technology. What can EU offer to India to help diversify this dependence?
The EU is is the world’s biggest economy and the world’s biggest trading bloc. I cannot suggest to India what to do. But of course, the EU is a partner, a privileged partner to India. And it’s up to India to decide what it wants to do with us.
And If India and the EU are unable to find a common meeting ground on what is happening in Ukraine, will that impact the EU’s cooperation with India in the Indo-Pacific?
Well, I think that we already agree on what’s happening in Ukraine. We already agree on the assessment of the facts. India has a neutral stance, it’s a real abstention in a way, it’s not a Chinese abstention. There’s a clear difference between the two at the UN. So what you are suggesting is an unreal hypothesis.
So would you say that India is genuinely neutral in this conflict?
In an extended notion of neutrality, let’s say that India is keeping to its tradition of being able to talk to all the sides involved without taking positions in order to be free to deal with all the stakeholders.