WORLD Ukraine crisis: Top Russian diplomat on Western sanctions, friendship with India and fake news

WORLD Ukraine crisis: Top Russian diplomat on Western sanctions, friendship with India and fake news

As the Ukraine crisis heats up, a conversation with Roman Babushkin, deputy chief of mission (DCM) of the Russian Embassy in India.

A long time ago, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell was asked advice for future generations. The first bit of his two-part response went thus: “Ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only — and solely — at what are the facts”.

In the crossfire of the information battle between the Ukraine and Russia, it is difficult to ascertain the truth. Do you believe CNNRTNYT? Or our own eyes?

So, following Russell’s advice, I decided to lend the Russian side an ear. I was set to interview Roman Babushkin, deputy chief of mission (DCM) of the Russian Embassy in India.

After many emails, messages and calls, our interview was set for 5 pm. And it began punctually. I wasted no time, and got to the issue at hand: the death of the Indian student in Kharkiv, Ukraine and safe passage for other Indians.

Could the Russian government offer safe passage for Indians through Russia’s borders? A composed Roman offered condolences, “It is a very tragic incident, that shouldn’t have happened. I join the Indian officials and Russian government in expressing my condolences”

“We are in talks with his excellency Shringla to open up secure corridors and give safe passage to Indians stuck in conflict zones.  We are committed to opening safe humanitarian corridors for helping Indians. We are very committed to the Indian side,” Babushkin assured.

This is not the first time Russia has come to India’s aid. Post Independence, first USSR and now Russia, has always stood with India on a variety of issues.

But why is the military there? Are civilians being targeted as seen on social media? Roman remained equanimous. “We didn’t start the war against Ukraine or its people. The Russian special military operation is aimed at ending the war there (Donbas region). And there is a special instruction from the Russian president not to target civilians or civilian infrastructure. We’ve been told to only target military units.”

But is this an invasion?

“Invasion is a wrong word because Russia doesn’t intend to occupy Ukraine. The special military action is to fight Nazi and neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine which committed various crimes, genocide, civilian killings, killing of children in the Donetsk and Luhansk region. In fact, the military action is aimed to end the eight-year-old war towards which the West turned a blind eye,” Babushkin said.

“Western media never report the other side. There are 14,000 dead in the region (Donbas) due to ceasefire violations and massive shelling. This is a gross violation of all human rights by Ukrainian side, and this was followed up by NATO military activity,  deployment for more weapons, troops in Eastern Europe,” Babushkin added.

He was quoting UN figures that confirmed 14,000 people were killed between 2018-2020 (84 per cent died in rebel-held areas).

Our conversation continued. We veered from discussing the persecution of native Russian people to the origin of the problem. The word fake news kept popping up, so I asked Babushkin for an example.

“We all saw the video of a missile hitting a building. Once you analyse it, it becomes clear that the missile came from the Western region, not us. There is fake news and propaganda being circulated to isolate Russia. But India understands the issues in its full complexity and stands with us,” Babushkin explained.

He spoke of India and Indians with high regard as Russia’s long-term friend, who “understand the whole issues with all its complexities”.

Sanctions will test the Indo-Russia friendship. So I asked about the impact on trade, especially as Russia supplies India with Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) and Nitrogen fertilisers. “Russia doesn’t recognise unilateral sanctions. The US doesn’t care about the people or the humanitarian consequences of sanctions,” he added.

“There may be rumours about the risk of doing business with Russia, however this is not the case. This is not the first day of sanctions. We have been sanctioned, and yet we have found solutions to bypass them. Gradually, we will be increasing payments in the national currency and ensure that trade is healthy. Look at the case of defence equipment. Despite sanctions, we are delivering, and working in the interest of both countries. India and Russia will find solutions together to all obstacles,” Babushkin said.

He sounded positive and hopeful of a stronger Indo-Russia alliance in the future.

“It is now time for more strategic thinking. The time has come for India, Russia, China, Brazil and other countries which represent the voices of a huge amount of people and regions to come together and demand a greater role in the global order. This crisis has seen the global community come around the US, one global power, and we don’t want that,” he added.

So what does Indian friendship mean to Russia? Our conversation made it clear that Russia needs India standing beside her. He spoke candidly. “We know it is hard for India, but we are together. We should emerge from this difficulty, and India can always count on Russian support.”

Worried about the violence and suffering, I wanted to know how soon this conflict ends.

“As soon as possible of course! Our goals remains the same: demilitarisation and neutral status of Ukraine. Negotiations and military operations are on. There will be talks, if not today then tomorrow by the presidential councillors.” Babushkin spoke.

As the conversation wound down, he offered his mantra for dealing with fake news: “There are people who are looking at media reports and getting concerned about Ukraine and the situation. My advice to those who are watching social media and getting overwhelmed is this: stop using social media.”

The interview was at an end. But I could still hear Lord Russell’s quote: “Remember my second advice, the moral one: love is wise, hatred is foolish. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together.”

I wondered: If the grand old pacifist were alive, what would he have thought?


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