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EAM's Interview to Austrian Media

Posted on: January 09, 2023 | Back | Print


The Press (TP): Is the world order changing before our eyes right now?

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (SJ): Absolutely. For all their differences, Barack Obama and Donald Trump already agreed that the U.S. can no longer play the same role on the world stage that it once did and must withdraw.

And Europe?

Our perception is that Europe adopted a defensive posture toward the world after the financial crisis erupted in 2008. Europe wanted to develop primarily in its own space and keep international problems as far away from itself as possible. Europe focused on trade, emphasized multilateralism, and used its economic influence to shape the world to its liking on issues such as climate change and human rights. Europe tended not to want to get involved in hard security issues.

How can the plate tectonic shift in the world's power structure be managed? History shows that such phases can be very dangerous.

We are already living in dangerous times. This transition to the new world order will take a long time. For the change is great. The Americans have been the quickest to grasp that they need to reposition themselves and seek cooperation with countries like us. The Europeans needed a wake-up call to understand that it is not always others who take care of the difficult aspects of life. This realization started even before the Ukraine conflict. When Europeans started talking about an Indo-Pacific strategy, it was clear to me that they no longer wanted to be mere spectators of developments in other parts of the world.

How is the Ukraine war shaking up the international order?

That is difficult to say after less than a year. But there is a clear psychological effect in Europe, which is forced to deal with a conflict in close proximity after a long time. What's more, Russia has always had a European-Asian duality. But this two-headed eagle always looked more toward Europe than toward Asia. Russians always saw themselves as Europeans. In the wake of the Ukraine war, that orientation could shift to Asia. This has geopolitical implications.

Russia has violated core principles of the UN Charter by attacking Ukraine. Why did India not support the resolution in which UN member states condemned the invasion of Ukraine by a majority?

Each state judges events according to its location, interests and history. There are also incidents in Asia, where countries in Europe or Latin America do not feel the need to take a position. What happened in Ukraine is closer to Europe. Europe has a different history with Russia than India. We also have different interests in Ukraine than you do. Almost all states will say that they support the principles of the UN Charter. But look at the world of the last 75 years: Have all UN members really always followed the UN Charter and never sent troops to another country?

That's whataboutism: If you always immediately point out what's going wrong elsewhere, you want to distract. Then you can forget about principles right away.

Correct. Whataboutism is one extreme, the other extreme position is: My interests are threatened, so you all have to be on my side. After all, I don't expect Europe to follow India in every foreign policy matter.

India benefits from not joining the sanctions. It imports energy from Russia at discount prices.

I vehemently reject - politically and also mathematically - that India is a war profiteer. Oil prices have doubled as a result of the Ukraine war. In such a situation, if you get a better price than other countries, you still pay much more than before. The oil market is also driven up by sanctions against Iran or what is happening in Venezuela. In such a situation, it makes diplomatic and economic sense to look around the market for the best deal. Would Europe pay more if it didn't have to?

Have no qualms about using oil purchases to finance Russia's war?

Europe imported about $120 billion worth of energy from Russia after the war broke out. That's six times as much as we bought.

Europe has reduced its Russian energy imports, while India has increased its imports from Russia.

Why is that? When Europe reduces its imports from Russia, it has to go to other oil markets. And those markets have been our main sources. If you take away my food, what am I going to do? Starve?

What do you think of the idea of capping the price of Russian oil internationally?

That was a Western decision without consultations with us. Every state has the right to make decisions. But we will never automatically sign what others have cooked up.

Is the price cap relevant for India?

That depends on what impact it has on energy markets. Nobody knows at the moment. Therefore, if prices continue to rise, the rest of the world will express what they think.

Do you see a role for India as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine?

If we can help, we stand ready. And we have already helped - very quietly on the grain deal, for example. We also tried to defuse the situation around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.

Is the main role of mediator already occupied by Turkey?

No. But it's not a question of who gets the credit as mediator and makes the headlines for it.

Both Ukraine and Russia apparently still believe they can make military ground gains. Is the time even ripe for negotiations?

The alternative according to not: are there peace negotiations or can we do nothing at all. For reasonable diplomats, now is not the time to take an all-or-nothing approach. There are many issues in between that need to be addressed quickly and where progress can be made. It doesn't always have to be about the grand peace deal. For many African countries, the fertilizer issue is a top priority. If there is not enough fertilizer coming from Russia and Ukraine, there will be global food shortages and famine in a few months or years. I wonder what the consequences of this conflict, following years of covid pandemic, will be for global energy and food markets, inflation and international trade. I see nothing but bad news everywhere. Nobody really needs this war.We don't need wars at all.

I find it interesting that you came to Vienna. Although India, with 1.4 billion people, has 158 times the population of Austria, there is one thing in common: both countries try to take neutral positions.

If there is one country in Europe that can understand where we are coming from, it is Austria. By the way, at the right moment, of the more than 190 countries in the world, there is no country that is not important.

Why was India rather reserved on the world stage for a long time?

We have not been as reluctant as many might think. Quite a few challenges in Asia have less resonance in Europe. But that aside: When a country grows economically, demographically and technologically, its interests and the responsibilities that go with them broaden. India is now the world's fifth largest economy. Around 2028, we will probably have overtaken Germany and Japan to rank third behind China and the United States. Last year, our global exports exceeded $400 billion for the first time. India has become a major foreign investor. All of this will reflect on foreign policy.

China's rise and increasing power projection poses a major challenge to the Indo-Pacific region. What is your recipe for stability?

The more India grows, the greater our economic weight and political influence becomes, the better it is not only for us but also for the world. Not only the world order, but also Asia must become multipolar. No region will be stable if it is dominated by a single power. The essence of international relations is for states to get along and find a balance.