France and India have a shared interest in reducing the risk of escalation in the Ukraine conflict and Paris hopes New Delhi will use its long-standing ties with Moscow to push efforts to find a resolution to the war, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
Ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the people familiar with thinking in the French diplomatic establishment acknowledged that France and India were not in the “exact same position” on the Ukraine crisis, but pointed out that there has been a change in the Indian position over the past year. In this context, they pointed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks to Russian President Vladimir Putin – that today’s era is not of war – during a meeting last September.
“Where we align is the fact that we all want to reduce the risk of escalation and to try to find a way towards peace. India is clear on this. There are important links between the Indian and Russian governments, and we have asked them to use these links to help us towards peace. It is a long process and it won’t happen tomorrow,” one of the people said.
The people acknowledged India is “most likely” to abstain when the UN General Assembly votes on February 23 on a draft resolution demanding that Russia withdraw its troops and end hostilities in Ukraine. “We know that India is not very likely to join one side or the other as it is a question of balance. We have been in contact with the political leadership [and we’ve had] candid discussions. It will be their decision,” a second person said.
France and its partners in the European Union (EU), as well as the US and the UK, have an intense political dialogue with India that allows the discussion of complex issues, the people said.
India has refrained from publicly criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine though it has called for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.
Modi’s remarks that “today’s era is not of war” were echoed by the joint communique adopted at the G20 Summit in Indonesia last year amid deep divisions within the grouping over the Ukraine crisis.
The people referred to India’s decision not to join the price cap enforced by the G7 and EU on Russian oil and gas and said this was not unusual given New Delhi’s history of adopting a non-aligned position. However, the stand taken by India on the price cap doesn’t prevent discussions on “difficult issues”, they said.
With the EU preparing to impose a tenth package of targeted sanctions against Russia, the people dispelled suggestions that the sanctions and oil price cap have not been effective in curbing Russia’s efforts to wage war in Ukraine.
“We have seen a major impact on the Russian economy, which has been paralysed by the sanctions. Russia cannot access substitutes to maintain its defence apparatus and its air defence, as well as its energy production apparatus,” the first person said.
Assets of Russia’s central bank worth 300 billion euros have been frozen outside the country and economic activity within Russia has been hit by a lack of domestic and foreign investments. “Figures from international bodies suggest the Russian economy has been set back 20 years as far as investments are concerned,” the person added.
Though Russia has sought to diversify its energy exports, including through increased sales of crude to China and India, there are no new customers for Russian gas and resources derived even from the diversified oil exports are limited, the people said.
“We are not expecting all countries to join the sanctions. We understand that some countries are dependent on Russia for their economy and for supplies. We are looking at people who are illegally subverting the sanctions and we want to work on this issue with our EU partners,” the first person said.
The people said there is currently no space whatsoever for negotiations, with Putin spurning Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan and showing no willingness to join any peace process. Instead, Russia’s actions, such as increasing mobilisation of troops to 1.5 million and renewed strikes on civilian infrastructure, have pointed towards an escalation.