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India asks its citizens in Ukraine to ‘consider leaving temporarily’

Source : The Week

India asks nationals in Ukraine to ‘consider leaving temporarily’
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India has asked its nationals in Ukraine to “consider leaving temporarily” in view of the “uncertainties of the current situation in Ukraine”. It has also advised Indians to avoid all non-essential travel to and within Ukraine. The notification, issued by the Embassy of India in Kyiv, has also requested all Indians to keep the embassy informed about the status of their presence in Ukraine to enable the embassy to reach them where required. The embassy, as of now, is functioning normally.

Although violence has not yet erupted in Ukraine, the situation continues to be tense. The US announced its decision to relocate its embassy to Lviv, around 80km from the border with Poland, citing dramatic acceleration in the build-up of Russian forces and concern for the safety of embassy staff. It had earlier asked American citizens to leave the country.

Russia has suggested a willingness to keep talking with the West in an attempt to defuse the situation. Russia has not just amassed huge forces near its border with Ukraine, it is also conducting joint air drills with Belarus near the border. Russia has also reinforced its Black Sea Fleet.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine should not be allowed to join NATO, and that the NATO forces roll back from the border. Ukraine, on the other hand, says it will continue to seek membership of NATO. Its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said that, “I believe we should move along the path we have chosen.”

The bulk of the Indian diaspora in the Ukraine comprises students, mostly studying medicine. In the pre-Covid times, there were at least 18,000 Indian students in various Ukrainian universities. Other Indians there are engaged in business, mainly dealing in pharmaceuticals, IT, engineering, medicine and education.

While the Ukrainian situation is geographically far from India, the country is concerned on various fronts. In a clash between Russia, India’s long-standing partner, and the US, India’s newest bestie, it will become increasingly difficult to stay neutral. Already, there are issues with the supply of Russian military equipment to India, which could incur US sanctions under its Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). So far the supply of the Russian S-400 missile defence system has evaded CAATSA sanctions, but if the situation worsens, there could be a huge diplomatic headache for India.

At the recent meeting of Quad foreign ministers in Australia, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar pointedly avoided getting drawn into any Russia bashing. He noted that the Quad is for something, not against anybody. He sidestepped another question on Ukraine at the press conference by saying that the Quad meeting was focussed on the Indo Pacific, “So I think you should figure out the geography there.”

However, in an age of rapidly changing global dynamics, it may not be possible to avoid questions for much longer. It will be even more difficult to remain neutral if hostilities aggravate.

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