NEW DELHI, Feb 23 (PTI): On the eve of the first anniversary of Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union on Thursday said the crisis will have an impact on the proceedings of the G20 but asserted that it trusts the Indian presidency of the grouping to make the proceedings “productive” in that respect.
Ugo Astuto, the ambassador of the European Union, said Europe understands India’s position in continuing with procurement of crude oil from Russia and that it appreciates New Delhi’s overall stand on the Ukraine conflict.
The comments by the ambassador of the 27-nation bloc came five days ahead of India hosting a meeting of the G20 foreign ministers that is set to be attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Britain’s James Cleverly and France’s Catherine Colonna among others.
In an exclusive interview to PTI, Ambassador Astuto said it is not a “business as usual situation” and the crisis will have an impact on the proceedings of G20.
The EU has been playing a key role in pushing punitive sanctions against Russia as well as to extend all possible support to Ukraine including by extending military assistance.
Describing India’s voice on the conflict as an influential one, he said there is appreciation in Europe of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that it is not the time for war.
“When it comes to G20, inevitably we are not in a business-as-usual situation and this will have an impact on G20. But we trust the Indian presidency to make the proceedings of G20 productive in that respect. We will support the Indian presidency as much as we can,” he said.
Europe has been solidly backing Ukraine in the face of the war that according to a UN estimate left over 7,000 civilians dead and thousands of others injured.
Astuto said there is an understanding in Europe about India’s continuing procurement of crude oil from Russia.
“I think we all in Europe understand and respect the constraints of India when it comes to procurement of energy for its people,” he said, adding the G7 price cap on Russian crude is working for many countries including India.
The G7 price cap that came into effect in December stops countries from paying more than USD 60 a barrel to Russia for oil procurement with an aim to stop Moscow profiting from its oil exports.
“It is working for all the countries that need to get supplies from the world market. As opposed to the past when we have seen dramatic increase in oil prices, today the prices are down to the pre-crisis level. And it is not by chance,” he said.
The ambassador described India’s voice on the crisis as “influential”.
“The Indian voice is a very influential voice. We have much appreciated the statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the fact that it is not the time for war and we have seen India trying to exert its influence on a number of occasion including when the moment came to arrange some sort of an agreement to have grains exported from Ukraine through the Black Sea,” he said.
In a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Uzbekistan on September 16, Modi said “today’s era is not of war” and nudged the Russian leader to end the conflict.
India has not yet condemned the Russian invasion and has been pushing for resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.
The grain agreement was signed following months of negotiations to primarily facilitate the export of around 20 million tonnes of wheat, maize and other grains from Ukraine.
Following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia blocked maritime access to the Ukrainian ports that resulted in a total halt in the export of millions of tons of grains from that country triggering a global food crisis.
“I think the position of India is important and well appreciated. What we asked all partners of the international community is to come together for the defence of the UN charter,” Astuto said.
He also pointed out about India extending humanitarian aid to Ukraine on several occasions.
“So we have already seen India remaining active and rightly so as India is an influential voice,” Astuto said.
He said India’s G20 presidency has presented a very ambitious programme and some of the points on the topical issues are very close to consensus.
Astuto cited climate change, digital transition, and ways to achieve the sustainable development goals as major areas of deliberations at the G20.
“It’s a fact that we need to inject further momentum into the global pursuit of sustainable development goals if we want to respect our target of 2030. We will be happy to cooperate with the Indian presidency of G20.
“The problem remains that we are not in a business as usual situation. The war in Europe is due to an illegal aggression and this will have an impact also on the proceedings of the G20. We are ready to help the Presidency, but we must also recognise the effect on the ground,” he said.
Astuto said everybody in the West is supporting Ukraine “very solidly”.
“It is further evidence of the fact that the US and its allies NATO, the European Union and Europe are all with Ukraine,” he said.
“We understand that for Ukraine, it is an existential fight. If the Russians stop fighting, the war is over and Russia will remain a major power in Europe. If Ukranians stop fighting, the very existence of Ukraine as an independent sovereign country is in jeopardy,” he said.
The EU ambassador said if an illegal aggression and a major breach of international charter goes unpunished, then it would be a risk for the international system of governance based on rules underpinned by the UN charter.
“We do not want that to be repeated elsewhere. It is important that we stand with Ukraine. We are convinced and we are doing it. There is total unity in Europe and NATO. I think it has taken the Russian leadership by surprise,” he said.