NEW DELHI - India has asked for restraint and greater diplomatic effort to prevent a military escalation in Ukraine as the South Asian country prepared to evacuate its citizens after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as independent and ordered in troops.
"The immediate priority is de-escalation of tensions taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries and aimed towards securing long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond," said ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday (Feb 21).
The Indian envoy noted the developments had the "potential to undermine peace and security of the region".
"We are convinced that this issue can only be resolved through diplomatic dialogue. We need to give space to the recent initiatives undertaken by parties which seek to defuse tensions," he said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also underscored India’s position, noting that it was for talks and wanted peace in the region, showing that New Delhi did not want to be drawn into the crisis and harm relations with Russia amid pressure from its Western friends.
India, which has close ties with both Russia and the United States, has been in touch with Moscow and Washington on Ukraine.
New Delhi has sought to balance its position amid the deepening crisis, refraining from taking sides in spite of pressure, particularly from Washington, to take a stand on the crisis.
Commentary from the US has noted that India has not condemned Russia nor given a statement on Ukraine's sovereignty.
Russia, which had thanked India for its position before the latest development, remains a close defence partner while proximity with the US has deepened amid convergences of interests mainly over the growing Chinese threat in the region.
India also remains in a tricky position as it is in the midst of acquiring S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems from Russia and also needs a waiver from the US, which has imposed sanctions on Turkey for acquiring the same missile system from Russia.
India is also a member of the Quadrilateral Security Forum – or Quad – with US, Australia and Japan, with Washington viewing New Delhi as an important partner in the Indo Pacific to act as a counter to China.
While the South Asian country hopes to protect bilateral ties with Russia and the US from any blowback from the Ukraine crisis, a more immediate priority is the safety of Indian citizens.
There are 20,000 Indian professionals and students studying in different parts of Ukraine including in the border areas, said Mr Tirumuti.
Evacuations are expected to start on Tuesday as an Air India flight left for Ukraine to bring back Indian citizens, reported Indian news agency Asian News International (ANI).
Indian media reported that the first flight would carry 245 people from Ukraine back to India.
The Indian Embassy in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, tweeted that additional flights were being added on Feb 25, Feb 27 and and March 6.
The embassy on Sunday had advised Indian nationals, whose stay is not essential, to leave Ukraine temporarily even as Indian media had reported that families of Indian Embassy officials had also been asked to return home.
The embassy in its advisory additionally asked students to get in touch with students contractors for updates on charter flights out of Ukraine.