Mr Kuleba is in India on a two-day visit.

New Delhi: As the war with Russia rages on, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has said India has an important global voice and can not only use it to influence the way Moscow behaves but also help other nations join an initiative for peace.

In an expansive interview with NDTV on Thursday during his first visit to the country, the Ukrainian leader also spoke about the need for India to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council, the evolving India-Russia and India-Ukraine relationship, a planned peace summit in Switzerland, and Holi being celebrated on the streets of Kharkiv. 

Mr Kuleba, who is in India on a two-day visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, said it didn’t take him any time to agree to come. “This is because India is a very important player in the world and we need India to restore just and lasting peace in Ukraine,” he said.

On Mr Jaishankar’s statements that India and Russia take special care of each other’s interests, but also that the country has given frank messages to Moscow, the Ukrainian foreign minister said the India-Russia is based on the Soviet legacy, which is “extinct and has no future”.

Mentioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement – which he called “famous words” – that ‘this is not an era of war’, Mr Kuleba said Russia has triggered the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. 

“We understand there are some economic, technological ties between India and Russia and India is a sovereign nation, it has the right to develop relations with any country it deems appropriate. But if India and Russia are so close, it means that India can influence the way Russia behaves and this is one of the reasons why the voice of India is so important but, second, I don’t think this relationship has a future for the reason that I mentioned. I think the Ukrainian-Indian relationship has more (of a) future in that sense,” the minister said. 

India’s Key Role

To a question on what his country would like India to do in the current situation, the minister said New Delhi can use its relations with Russia to stop the war, which has gone on for over two years now. 

“India can play a very important role in bringing together more nations from the Global South… if India sits at the table of the peace formula, the initiative put forward by Ukraine to find a diplomatic solution to the war, then many other nations will feel much safer and comfortable sitting next to India and they will come and join this effort,” he said. 

Mr Kuleba said this will not only enhance “excellent” India-Ukraine ties, but also respect for international law. “That you cannot change borders by force, that you cannot invade your neighbours, that you cannot commit atrocities. This is the world that India will benefit from and this is the world that Russia tries to destroy,” he said. 

The minister also Indicated a softening of Ukraine’s stance on India purchasing Russian oil and said since the transaction is done in rupees, it does not end up benefiting the Russian “war machine”. 

Russian Attack

On last week’s attack on a Moscow concert hall, in which at least 140 people were killed, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims that the attackers were heading towards South Ukraine, Mr Kuleba said the attempt at blaming his country was no surprise. 

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. If there is anything that can be used to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of international community, if there is anything that can be used to mobilise more Russians against Ukrainians, it will be done. This is the attitude and the approach that the Russian leadership has take.. They kept lying to the whole world that they were not going to invade Ukraine, and they did. They lie all the time. So why do you think they are telling the truth this time?

India On Security Council

The Ukrainian minister said that despite the Israel-Gaza war and the Russia-Ukraine war going on simultaneously, his country has got help from Europe and the US. 

“F-16s will arrive in Ukraine soon… Yes, there is a debate in the United States, we all follow it with popcorn in our hands. It’s pretty dramatic, I agree, but both Democrats and Republicans agree that support to Ukraine must continue… Even if anyone wants the US to completely isolate itself and focus entirely on domestic issues, this is simply impossible. This is not how the world works. So the United States will continue to be involved in fixing the world,” he said.

To a question on whether the United Nations is losing its relevance given the continuation of the two wars, he said criticising the UN would be an easy thing. “I will not resort to this easy exercise because the war taught us that only difficult exercises are worth spending your energy on,” he said.

The minister added, however, that the UN is struggling because the balance of power inside the organisation is “broken” and things need to change.  

“Every new death as a result of a war in the world is another nail in the coffin of the United Nations. The UN is trying its best, but it just can’t because it gets paralysed if there is no agreement among key stakeholders… It needs to change. I firmly believe that Russia must be out of the UN Security Council. India must be in. Other countries should become permanent members,” he said. 

Can Medical Students Return?

Asked when Indian medical students will be able to go back to Ukraine, Mr Kulabe used the example of being treated by an Indian doctor a month ago as an example of the importance of India-Ukraine ties.  

“It was an Indian, a young lady, who studied in Ukraine, who stayed in Ukraine, also during the war. And you have to understand that while many Indian students come back to India after studying in Ukraine to help their communities, others stay and become part of our community, of our society. Kharkiv, a beautiful city in eastern Ukraine, was the capital of the Holi festival in Ukraine,” he said. 

“Every year, Indian students together with Ukrainian students turned the streets and the squares of Kharkiv into an Indian city by celebrating Holi. Today, the city is being systematically destroyed by Russia on a daily basis… We want Holi to be celebrated on the streets of Kharkiv again. We don’t want to see Russian bombs there, not to mention Russian soldiers,” the minister said. 

“And we took measures to allow foreign students to study in other parts of Ukraine. It’s because we consider them part of our society and we greatly value this part of our bilateral cooperation,” he emphasised. 

Attempts At Peace

On the threat of a World War, which has been flagged several times by Mr Putin, the Ukrainian foreign minister said it could be rhetoric. 

“I think President Putin loves his lavish life too much to put it at the risk of extinction by resorting to a third world war. But, of course, in order to persuade countries not to help Ukraine, he will continue to heat up his rhetoric. This is just rhetoric,” he claimed. 

A peace summit is being planned in Switzerland at Ukraine’s request and Mr Kuleba said India’s presence there will be critical. “(It will be) crucial and this is one of the reasons I am here. India has been a part of preparatory coordination meetings and President Voldymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Modi discussed the summit in their phone conversation.”

Stating that the summit is based on a UN General Assembly resolution of October 2022 on the main principles of restoring peace in Ukraine, Mr Kuleba pointed out that 143 nations had voted in its favour. 

“It doesn’t say anything more than what is already said in this resolution. So those countries who voted for this resolution should face no problem in supporting what is written in the peace formula. And 143 is a big number,” he said.

Stressing that some of the main points of the formula are food security, energy security, exchange of prisoners, return of deported children and accountability for the crimes committed, the minister said the main aim is the end of the war. 

“So basically the peace formula is a menu that addresses all major problems caused by the large-scale invasion of Russia in Ukraine. And we designed this menu, I deliberately use the word ‘menu’, in a way that any country can pick up the issue that it wants to work on. For example, you want to work on the exchange of prisoners, but you do not want to work on bringing Russian leadership to account for war crimes committed in Ukraine. And that’s fine… It allows us to have more countries on board,” he said. 

Lessons From The Mahatma

Asked about a video he had posted with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi behind him – in which he spoke of the freedom fighter’s legacy- and what he expects to achieve in the conversations with Mr Jaishankar and others in the government, the minister said he expects a candid exchange. 

Mr Kulabe said, “We will have a very candid conversation, about all the good things, and the things that we dislike in our policies – I mean in Ukrainian policy, but also in Indian policy. But, since I will be seeing Dr Jaishankar tomorrow, I can give him a heads up to our conversation thanks to your question. My point is very simple. Very few believed that Mahatma Gandhi would succeed, and India would become an independent nation through a peaceful resistance. And today, many say that Ukraine will not be able to restore its territorial integrity, but the Mahatma succeeded, and Ukraine will succeed as well.”

“Because the truth was on his side, and is on our side today. And I’m sure that India will be on the side of truth again because supporting Ukraine today is supporting the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi – freedom, independence, and belief that if you fight for the right cause, you will eventually succeed, irrespective of how strong your enemy is,” he added. 


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