New Delhi: In their first meeting since the start of Russia’s so-called special operations, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi noted that nobody would understand the “agony of war” more than the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) May 20, 2023
They met on the margins of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, where both the leaders had been invited as special invitees by the host, Japan.
Zelenskyy’s participation at the G20 summit was not raised by either side, but the Ukrainian president invited Modi to visit Kyiv.
As per the Ukrainian readout, Zelenskyy briefed Modi about the Ukrainian peace formula and “invited India to join the implementation of this initiative”.
Appreciating Indian aid, he also asked for India’s help in meeting Ukraine’s need for “humanitarian demining and mobile hospitals”.
“The war brought many crises and suffering. Deported children, mined territories, destroyed cities, destroyed destinies,” Zelenskyy said, as quoted by the statement from his office.
He also thanked India for “supporting our country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, in particular, at the platforms of international organisations”.
Zelensky was referring to India’s statements made after abstaining on resolutions on Ukraine at different organs of the United Nations.
According to Ukraine, Indian PM thanked “for the help provided to Indian students during the evacuation from Ukraine because of the full-scale Russian invasion”.
In his opening remarks, the Indian PM said in his opening remarks he wants to do “whatever I can” to find a solution to the Ukraine war.
He noted that the Ukraine war has had global consequences. “But I don’t consider it merely as a political or economic matter, but it is about human values”.
“Nobody knows the agony of war more than you,” he told Zelenskyy in Hindi. But, Modi added that when Indian students stranded at the start of the war in Ukraine returned home, he gained a deeper understanding of the anguish experienced by the Ukrainian people due to the ongoing war.
As per foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra, Modi assured the Ukrainian president that India would continue to provide humanitarian assistance, “in particular pharmaceuticals which are sometimes in critical requirement”.
Since the start of the war, India has refused to publicly criticise Russia and has always abstained on any vote on a resolution criticising Moscow on the Ukraine war at any multilateral organisation. New Delhi has criticised attacks on civilians, but again, it did not name Russia directly.
As articulated in numerous statements and speeches, India’s position has been to advocate for dialogue and diplomacy, while stating that principles in the UN charter should be respected. It has repeatedly highlighted Modi’s statement to Russian President Vladimir Putin that this is “no era for war”.
Modi had last met Zelenskyy at the UN climate change conference in November, 2021. At that time, the Ukrainian president was wearing standard formal wear, in contrast to his current olive-green combat attire.
They have spoken four times over the last year, with the last time being in December 2022.
The meeting in Hiroshima took place ahead of the G-20 summit in September, which will be chaired by India. There has been pressure from the West that the Ukraine president should be invited to speak, even virtually, at the summit. So far, India has resisted.
Ukraine had earlier also aired its expectations on the participation of Zelensky at the G20 summit during the visit of Ukrainian first deputy foreign minister Emine Dzhaparova to New Delhi last month. However, FS Kwatra confirmed that the matter was not even brought up during the meeting of the leaders on Saturday.
Zelenskyy had spoken virtually at the Bali G-20 Summit, but the situation had been different at that time. The Bali summit had even seen the adoption of a joint communique, with the assent of China and Russia.
Both China and Russia refused to endorse the language that they accepted earlier at Bali during the G20 foreign ministers meeting. As a result, there was no joint statement, but only a ‘Chair’s summary and outcome document’.
Russia, a longstanding ally, has served as India’s primary source of defence equipment. Moreover, India has emerged as one of the prominent purchasers of Russian oil since sanctions were imposed on Moscow at the start of the Ukraine war.
Note: This article has been updated with foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra’s remarks.