Former Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar Ji has worked for the Indian Foreign Services for over thirty years. He has been Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia, and has worked in diplomatic positions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok.
He had a pioneering role during the negotiation of India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, for India-EU, India-ASEAN and the India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement.
He has worked as the head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony. He is currently the president of Institute of Global Studies in New Delhi. Amb. Sajjanhar writes and speaks on issues relating to international relations and Indian foreign policy.
“I am quite hopeful in fact that both sides USA and Russia, `they understand India’s position and they appreciate India’s position also.”
LSJ: What repercussions would India have to face as a result of this war? How is India being portrayed in the Global scenario?
Ashok Sajjanhar Ji:
These are two questions. One is in terms of the implications of the war in India, so I think this can be looked at different levels, one is at the level of the impact on India’s economy because what we see is that India is a very significant importer of energy or hydrocarbons, oil, gas etc. and whenever there is any uncertainty anywhere, the prices of energy always increase, the prices of hydrocarbons always rise.
We have seen this recently also, the prices of oil has reached all-time highs of 110-113 dollars a barrel for Brent Crude so that is going to have a very significant impact on the economy of India because we are importing about 85% of our oil requirements and about 40% of our gas requirements.
So one is definitely uncertain as far as ‘energy’ is concerned, then on the ‘economy’ so whenever there is this uncertainty, then investments don’t take place, people are not spending, that will affect manufacture, that will affect exports.
Our exports have been doing reasonably well in the last few months, so that will get affected and that will also have an impact on economic growth within the country and on employment, so there could be a negative impact on India’s economy.”
Second, is in terms of strategic aspects, because India has excellent relations both with the United States as well as The Russian federation and when things are becoming so difficult between both our partners then there would be some pressure on India, some complications for India.
India has handled that very well so far, by abstaining of the UN security council, also at the United Nations General assembly but in our explanation of Vote we have been arguing first of all, for ‘ceasefire’ then or ‘resort to diplomacy and dialogue’ and that is what we will continue to pursue.
I am reasonably hopeful, I am quite hopeful in fact that both sides USA and Russia, `they understand India’s position and they appreciate India’s position also. That is why there have been some comments about India not criticising and condemning Russia for its naked aggression against Ukraine, but I think there has also been understanding that we have historical ties with Russia and we still continue to import about 60% of our defence requirements from the Russian federation.
In the Western part of the world maybe there is some criticism of India’s position and India’s stand, but I think that is because there is inadequate understanding of India’s stand, because India’s stand has also, you must appreciate, has evolved over the last four weeks. Also you see before 21 February when Russia recognised that two breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, as independent states, till that time we were always arguing for safeguarding the legitimate security interests of all countries that means that Russia also has legitimate security interests which need to be taken into account, which need to be taken into consideration.
But after what Russia did on 21st February that is recognise these two breakaway parts and attacked Ukraine on the 24th February, we have of been speaking about the ‘cessation of hostilities’, talking about ‘ceasefire’, ‘diplomacy’, we have been talking about ‘dialogue’ and you would see that this is the position that is being taken by Ukraine because who is asking for cessation of violence and hostilities? It is Ukraine that is asking, and we have spoken out in favour of preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nations and respecting the ‘United Nations Charter’.
So that is definitely, this position of being critical of the Russian action is definitely a part of the ‘explanation of vote’ that we have given both at the ‘Security Council’ as also at the ‘United Nations General assembly’.
“We undertake very strict and stringent assessment and tests, field tests, before we take any equipment from any country”
LSJ: Sir, India has always taken a lot of ammunition assistance from Russia, so are we in a doubtful and fearful situation considering that even US Spokesperson Ned Price also said that Russian ammunition also succumbed to several failures during the ongoing war. Are we to fear hence on?
Ashok Sajjanhar Ji-
Well as I mentioned you know, in response to your first question, even though we have diversified our defence acquisitions we still depend to the extent of 60% imports on Russia.”
But we undertake very strict and stringent assessment and tests, field tests, before we take any equipment from any country. So I am very confident that our defence services, our defence forces, have undertaken all the necessary, conducted all the necessary tests and you know, done all the due diligence, before they have decided to purchase any particular equipment or any particular platform.
For instance I think the ‘S 400 Ballistic missile defence system’ that is going to be coming, that’s already coming into the country or you know many of these Make in India initiatives like the ‘AK203 Riffle’ or the ‘Kamov 226T Helicopters’ I think that all those are tried and tested platforms of the Russian Federation and so they have acquitted themselves extremely credibly as unfortunately India had had to fight many wars because of our neighbourhood and we continued to fight a proxy war also against Pakistan and all weapons have acquitted themselves very correctively and we are extremely satisfied with it, so I do not think that there is any cause of concern on this account.”
“The attack of Russia on Ukraine is totally unjustified, it is unprovoked basically, because Russia and Mr Putin himself wants to subjugate Ukraine and wants to install a government there.”
LSJ: Sir Do you feel that NATO has made a fool out of Ukraine?
Ashok Sajjanhar Ji:
Well, I think that it has been reasonably clear that the accession of Ukraine to NATO is not a straight simple matter. That it is a very complex issue. Now this is of course true that Ukraine wants to become a part of the European Union, it wants to become a member of NATO but I feel that the attack of Russia on Ukraine is totally unjustified, it is unprovoked basically, because Russia and Mr Putin himself wants to subjugate Ukraine and wants to install a government there. He wants a redeem change in Ukraine. He wants to install a government which is subservient to the Russian Federation and I think in the process, he wants also to declare and announce to the world that Russia has emerged as a Major Global Power Nation, that it no longer a rather weak nation, a weak army, weak power that it was in the beginning of 1990 when the Soviet Union disintegrated and he wants to reclaim the glory of the Soviet Union and that is why he has attacked Ukraine. But I think he has miscalculated that Ukraine would fall easily and succumb. Putin must have been quite surprised by the valiant resistance offered both by President Volodymyr Zelensky, as also the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people because they continue to resist this advance notwithstanding the very horrific destruction, the bloodshed violence that has been inflicted on them by the Russian forces.
“Now who will believe that? Who will trust that sort of a statement when you have displaced more than 1Million who have had to flee from their homes.”
LSJ: Sir, we witnessed yesterday that many delegates chose to simply walk out when the Russian delegation was delivering its speech. It is completely against the very first Rule of Law ‘Audi alteram partem’ which means ‘Let the other side be heard as well”. Do you feel the same?
Ashok Sajjanhar Ji:
Well, I guess you know, this is to show their opposition to the actions of the Russian Federation and at times you know it is said that ‘actions speak louder than words’ and whatever I think had needed to be heard it has been heard from President Putin himself. For instance many of the things which have been mentioned by the Russian side they are so totally unbelievable because what today I heard some of the senior Russian leaders what they said that we have saved thousands of lives by attacking Ukraine. Now who will believe that? Who will trust that sort of a statement when you have displaced more than 1Million who have had to flee from their homes. Homes have been residential apartments which have been raised to the grounds, they have been destroyed whether it is a school, Kinder Garden, hospitals, crèches, all of them have been destroyed so how can you speak about saving thousands of Ukrainian lives by attacking Ukraine.
This is totally inconceivable and you know when it is very well known as to what the person is going to speak, then I think the message needs to be sent that the HOUSE (most of the participants) are opposed to those actions, or otherwise you give it the same respect, the same level as you would to any other interlocutor, but there it is the aggressor which is trying to justify his or her actions which are really not justifiable at the damage which has been inflicted.
“It is something like when America was involved in Afghanistan, so America was losing ‘men’ and ‘money’ and its ‘political influence’ but China was the beneficiary because it was getting the ‘benefit of Peace’”
LSJ: At the end of the day who is being befitted from all of this?
Ashok Sajjanhar Ji:
I think if there is one country that is benefiting might be China because China is sitting to one side, it sees that whether it is Ukraine, whether it is Russia, whether it is Europe, whether it is America, they are extending their ‘political’, ‘strategic’, ‘military’, ‘economic’ power and all of them are getting weaker in the process and China is sitting, it is something like when America was involved in Afghanistan, so America was losing ‘men’ and ‘money’ and its ‘political influence’ but China was the beneficiary because it was getting the ‘benefit of Peace’ and it was not required to make any investment, or any expenditure in any way towards that. Moreover, what also is happening is that it appears as if the United States has taken its eye off the ball of Indo Pacific Ward etc. where China, is the main adversary, the main threat to ‘International Order’ or ‘International Rule of Law’, so the focus has been removed from China, so China can , you know, going forward if it wishes to, if it desires to, it can also be much more aggressive in its own sphere maybe against Taiwan in the South China Sea or wherever it is.
The other beneficiary would be the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ of different countries whether it is Russia or United States or elsewhere the military industrial complex would also be a big beneficiary.