Important for India to attend Swiss Conference, play role in conveying message to Russia: ...

Important for India to attend Swiss Conference, play role in conveying message to Russia: Swiss Foreign Secretary Fasel

Swiss FS visits Delhi to push invitation, but MEA says it has not yet decided on participation, citing the ongoing election

India has not “determined its attendance” at next month’s Ukraine Peace Conference in Switzerland, repeated the Ministry of External Affairs, as Swiss Foreign Secretary Alexandre Fasel met with his counterparts in Delhi for another attempt to secure India’s participation.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Fasel said that it was important for Switzerland that India and other emerging economy partners of the BRICS grouping (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), minus Russia which hasn’t been invited, attend the summit, help by conveying messages to Moscow, and play a bigger role at a future peace summit when both Russia and Ukraine are at the table. In the past, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has disclosed that the government has played a role in bearing messages to the Kremlin on the Black Sea Grain initiative and about concerns over nuclear threats. 

“India and the fellow BICS [BRICS minus Russia] countries are in the situation where they have good contacts with Russia and also with Western countries. They can act as go-betweens that have the trust of either side,” Mr. Fasel, State Secretary of the Swiss Foreign Ministry said when asked what his expectations from the Indian government was, after his meeting with Secretary (West) Pavan Kapoor. 

“They [BICS] will have a determining role when the situation becomes right [to bring Russia and Ukraine to the table together],” he added, pointing out that the Swiss conference, slated in the resort town of Burgenstock on June 15-16, would not work on a peace proposal per se, but build a framework or road map to start peace talks. 

The Swiss Foreign Secretary visited Delhi, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the conference organisers for not inviting Russia, and said that they only intended to “put pressure on Russia” with an outcome statement.

When asked whether the absence of Russia, a party to the conflict, would make the conference one-sided, Mr. Fasel said that at present the Swiss approach was an “unorthodox one”, as both sides could not be at the table together, but did not rule out an invitation to Russia for the next summit. In addition he said that three issues that could be discussed without the two parties were freedom of navigation and food security, nuclear safety, and humanitarian issues, all of which India has expressed concern about.

Since February, when the Swiss government first invited India to the conference, New Delhi has made it clear that it will only clarify its participation once the election process is over in the first week of June. On Friday, Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal repeated the stand, saying, “We have received the invitation from the Swiss side, and we are yet to decide on our participation.”

Even so, Mr. Fasel said he remained hopeful that New Delhi would respond positively.

“I am hopeful because there is this expectation from the international community on one side, and from [Switzerland] bilaterally, that we need India to be there and to contribute.” He also said it was important to have a high representation from the “Global South” or developing world as they would be most influential in shaping global governance in the future. He also pointed that since National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval had attended NSA-track meetings on Ukraine in different formats already, India would also be part of the enhance-level meeting of Heads of State/Heads of Government.

According to the Swiss Foreign Ministry, 50 countries of the 160 invited have so far confirmed their participation, indicating that the majority of countries who have accepted including the G-7 leadership are from the West or are western allies like Japan and Australia, who are already part of the sanctions regime against Russia. Mr. Fasel insisted that Switzerland remains a “neutral” venue, despite the fact that it has also imposed sanctions on Russia, saying that being neutral did not mean being “indifferent” to the continuing war, or “doing nothing” to stop it.   

He also confirmed that none of the BICS countries had responded to the invitations sent out. 

India, which will await a new government to be formed by mid-June, will be able to decide its participation as well as the level of its delegation after other countries confirm their participation. In particular, New Delhi will watch the Chinese decision, given that China has begun a peace process of its own, offering a 12-point peace formula, and sending leaders including Foreign Minister Wang Yi for visits to Ukraine, various countries in Europe and Turkey to discuss a resolution to the war.

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