Last week, India avoided with remarkable sovereignty becoming embroiled in Europe’s rapidly escalating crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border over migrants from Iraq and Syria trying to get into the European Union. The EU wants India by its side to isolate and ostracize Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whom it has accused of falsifying national election results last year. The New Delhi position is important because it now sits on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and is an influential member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Secretary General of the European External Action Service of the EU, Stefano Sannino, stressed in a telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla that Europe was facing a serious threat from Lukashenko. Sannino accused Belarus of cynical attempts to flood the EU with vulnerable migrants by forcing them through the border with Poland. The West has accused Russia of supporting Belarus in this plot.
Polish and Belarusian forces have not yet clashed directly at the time of writing, but hundreds of migrants, including children, are on proxy for both countries in this developing human tragedy with strategic ramifications. Polish forces suffered casualties in falling rocks by Palestinian-style migrants over barbed wire fences and steel gates for refusing to allow them into EU territory. Belarusian soldiers suffered collateral damage from Poles who tasered the migrants who tore down some of the Polish barriers.
Shringla refused to bite the bullet and was non-committal on the phone with Sannino. In a reading of the conversation of the Foreign Ministry (MEA) it was said between the lines that the EU could only get out of its telephone contact that “both sides agree on the need to de-escalate the situation and find an early solution”. India will not join a crusade against Lukashenko or promote a colorful revolution in Minsk like the one that the West has orchestrated in many of the world’s capitals.
On the contrary, the MEA recently approved the opening of a Belarusian consulate general in Mumbai. Quickly, within a month of this approval, Lukashenko’s cabinet approved the measures necessary to establish the diplomatic post, which is expected to open before December 31. Narendra Modi’s government storms headlong into the western camp.
A consultation of the Indian-Belarusian foreign ministry in Minsk, planned for November 1st after a three-year break, has not yet taken place. Poland has very strong historical and commercial ties with Gujarat, which may have been a factor in the lack of good-naturedness with Belarus now. Any Indian team traveling to Minsk for consultations would have had an audience with Lukashenko, who would earn diplomatic miles by working with an UNSC and UNHRC member. This would not have been rated positively by the EU. India hopes that the crisis with Poland will be defused by the time the Belarusian consulate opens in Mumbai.
An old communist apparatchik with a keen interest in Indo-Soviet relations and an early veteran of the Soviet Army, Lukashenko wanted to make India his second destination – Moscow – for a foreign visit shortly after he became president of Belarus in 1994. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s government was one of the first in the world to recognize Minsk as an independent capital in 1991 as part of its policy of maintaining relations with the successor states of the Soviet Union. A year later, an Indian diplomatic mission opened in Minsk.
Lukashenko’s request was not immediately implemented because then Foreign Minister Dinesh Singh suffered a stroke and was unable to work. Singh was replaced by Pranab Mukherjee a year later. A priority of Indian foreign policy at the time was improving relations with Europe, especially with Germany and Great Britain. Mukherjee, an instinctively cautious man, believed that the sight of Lukashenko inspecting an honor guard in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan during a state visit will slow the improvement of relations with the EU. From the beginning, the Western European governments saw Lukashenko as a Soviet holdover: neither a democrat nor a reformer, plus a deputy for Moscow.
Therefore, nothing happened to Belarus as long as Mukherjee was in charge of the south block, the headquarters of the MEA. When IK Gujral became Foreign Minister in mid-1996, the Russians put in a word with Gujral at Lukashenko’s behest. At that time there was no Belarusian embassy in New Delhi. Gujral was ambassador to Moscow for four years. Lukashenko’s wish to visit India soon came true. A productive journey that resulted in the opening of a Belarusian embassy in New Delhi the following year and the signing of trade agreements including the sale of much-needed potash, which forms the basis of Belarusian exports to India.
Given the controversies that erupted at the Glasgow climate talks over whether coal should “phased out” or “phased out” and India’s role in changing the wording, neither side wishes to highlight the upcoming collaboration between Belarusian state miners and coal limited in India. Belarusian oil companies with advanced technology are helping India increase production in domestic oil fields.
All this economic cooperation becomes less important when South Block looks at its balance sheet with Minsk and realizes that Belarus supports India in every way: a permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council, the recent election for a temporary seat at the United Nations high table , Membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which Belarus is a member. These are issues on which some European countries have reservations about supporting India. The support for India from Minsk is on the same level as India from Thimpu, Male or Port Louis. Going over migrants with the EU in the conflagration does not therefore mean pragmatism in the foreign policy affairs of the Modi government.
If the past is any clue, Lukashenko won’t visit India until 2027. During his long presidency he has visited India every tenth year: 1997, 2007 and 2017. Unless the West stirs up a successful color revolution, Lukashenko is likely to remain president in 2027. Only one Indian head of state was in Belarus when Modi asked Mukherjee to go to Minsk six years ago