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India keeps out of Russia blame game

New Delhi, July 23: India today said it was unwilling to join a global blame game over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine last week, joining China among major nations that have refused to hold Russia responsible.

“We should wait for the investigation into the crash,” foreign ministry spokesperson and joint secretary Syed Akbaruddin said. “It would be premature for us to take a position while we await the outcome of a probe.”

This is India’s first official reaction to the geopolitical crisis sparked by the MH-17 crash last Thursday that left 298 people, including 10 of Indian origin, dead.

While the West has blamed Russian-backed separatists for shooting down the plane and Russia has said it suspects Ukrainian government forces, India has so far refrained from issuing any statement on the crash — apart from offering condolences.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressing his anguish. The Netherlands and Malaysia lost the most nationals in the crash.

But the Modi government has taken an internal decision not to join the US, UK, European Union and several other nations in threatening Russia with additional economic sanctions, or in blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for the crash. It would just stay silent till pressed to speak, to minimise a public display of differences with western allies over the crisis.

The Indian position articulated today — that New Delhi will wait for the results of the international probe into the crash before holding anyone responsible — mimics the stance China has taken.

Like India, China is notorious for its reluctance to take public positions on global disputes that don’t directly affect it — especially if such positions could complicate already tense trade and strategic relations with the US.

But at the UN Security Council meeting on July 18, a day after the crash, China said it did not support accusations against any nation before an investigation.

“Our priority now is to establish facts,” Liu Jieyi, China’s permanent representative at the UN, had said at the meeting that sought a fair, independent probe. “Pending that, it is not advisable to jump to any conclusion, make any assumptions or trade accusations.”