NEW DELHI: India’s foreign minister condemned the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and called for an independent investigation on Wednesday amid international calls for further sanctions against Russia.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, its troops have repeatedly hit civilian sites with airstrikes and artillery, raising international concerns over war crimes.
As Russian forces retreat from the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, some of the strongest evidence of atrocities came to light this week from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha: mass graves and dead civilians on the streets — some corpses with bound hands and gunshot wounds to the head, others apparently mowed down by heavy vehicles.
Following the accounts from Bucha, the EU proposed new sanctions against Russia and several more European states have expelled Russian diplomats.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told lawmakers during Wednesday’s parliamentary address that India was “deeply disturbed by the reports.”
He said: “Many honorable members (of Parliament) brought up the incidents, the happenings in Bucha. We strongly condemn the killings which have taken place there. This is an extremely serious matter, and we support the call for an independent investigation.”
Moscow has since denied targeting civilians, despite overwhelming evidence shown by Ukrainian authorities, the international media and rights groups. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said they had documented “apparent war crimes” by Russian forces in Bucha and other sites.
India has repeatedly called for an end to the violence in Ukraine but has abstained from various UN resolutions on the war as it attempts to balance diplomatic ties with the West and Moscow — its main supplier of defense technology.
Neither Jaishankar nor India’s permanent representative to the UN, who on Tuesday evening also called for an independent probe into the Bucha killings, have directly condemned Russia.
Indian officials have also avoided using the terms “invasion” or “war” in reference to Russia’s assault on Ukrainian territory.
“This is keeping the Russian sensitivities in mind because Russia is not calling it a war,” Prof. Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.
“From India’s vantage point, keeping Russia in good humor is important for its own operational requirement, which is defense,” he said, adding that India wanted to balance the position of another superpower: China.
India-China ties have significantly deteriorated since April 2020, when tensions on the border in the northern Himalayan region of Ladakh led to a continuing standoff and the deployment of tens of thousands of extra troops to the area.
“India wants a channel of communication opened with Russia,” Pant said. “There are certain things India will have to do to make sure that Russia does not feel completely isolated and marginalized, because that would mean the Russia-China axis would grow even stronger.”
However, he added that recent developments are demonstrating an evolution in India’s position.
Facing Western pressure, Jaishankar last week called for respect for the UN Charter during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in New Delhi.
“Gradually, India is moving towards a position where it is saying that all countries, including Russia, have to follow the UN Charter, international law and territorial integrity,” Pant said. “Once this massacre has unfolded, it made it difficult for India to take any other position.”