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Indian students in Ukraine priority for government, world is witnessing difficult phase in international relationships: Former foreign secretary

New Delhi : With the escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, former foreign secretary Shashank has said that the immediate priority for India is to make sure that about 20,000 Indian students in Ukraine remain safe and are out of "conflict zone" in case of any hostilities. He told media that Ukraine wants to move rapidly towards alliance with the West but this is not acceptable to Russia. Shashank also said that the world is witnessing a very difficult phase in international relationships. Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision on Monday to recognize Ukraine's breakaway regions - Donetsk and Luhansk - as independent entities has escalated the ongoing tensions between the two countries. Shashank said the focus of geopolitics has shifted to Europe, especially Eastern Europe and very close to Russia. "There is a feeling that Russia is perhaps no longer the same as the old Soviet Union, and so, perhaps, it should make peace with the stronger neighbours in the West, and particularly with the United States. Russia is not willing to accept that situation. And, therefore, we are in a position where Russia does not want any NATO soldiers or NATO armoury or technical support very close to its borders," Shashank told media. He said India has made its stand on the present situation clear at the meeting of United Nations Security Council on developments in Ukraine. India on Tuesday strongly emphasized the need for all sides to exercise the utmost restraint and intensify diplomatic efforts to ensure a mutually amicable solution. "We have two important roles. We have about 20,000 Indian students studying in Ukraine. We have to make sure that they remain safe, they are out of the conflict zone if there is a conflict. Second, they continue to get all kinds of consular support from the Indian mission and from the local government wherever they are living," Shashank said.The former foreign secretary said the European countries will suffer the most if there's a conflict in eastern Europe and "Ukraine will be the centre of this conflict". He said that Ukraine thought that they would be able to get full support from NATO and western Europe and so they were taking a strong position that "Russia has to abide by the Ukrainian interest". Shashank said after developments in Crimea, Ukraine wanted "to move rapidly towards alliances with the West and this is not acceptable to Russia". Ukraine gained independence in 1991 after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The former foreign secretary said more countries closer to Russia's borders have been making friendship with the Western countries and seeking to join security alliances which is not acceptable to Moscow Shashank said Indians who are not able to take direct flights out of Ukraine, can at least move to some of the neighbouring countries from where they can take flights. He recalled the role played by former foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in evacuation of Indians and also of nationals of some other countries from conflict zones. An Air India flight took off from Delhi for Kyiv's Kyiv Boryspil International Airport on Tuesday morning. Air India will operate two more special flights between India and Ukraine on February 24 and 26.

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