When India abstained from voting against Russia on March 2 (2022) just before the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution deploring the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, Washington DC and Moscow rightly understood the message sent by New Delhi. It was India’s third abstention in less than a week on Russia’s military offensive in the neighbouring former Soviet Republic. According to the Indian officials, the abstention was in line with what the Government of India described as its consistent position, allowing the South Asian nation to reach out to both the sides in order to find the middle ground, and foster dialogue and diplomacy. However, one of the frontline US dailies has expressed displeasure, stating that it was hard to say India was maintaining a distance. Instead, India took a side… Russia’s side.
The US daily also mentioned that the friendship between India and Russia has a long history, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met Russian President Vladimir Putin at least 20 times since he became the Head of the Indian Government in 2014. According to the daily, both the Indian PM and the Russian President have nurtured the idea of Nationalism to stay in power. Although Russia, seemingly, is not worried about the move by the UNGA, the Kremlin considers India’s diplomatic move a huge victory for it. Indeed, Russia deserves credit for its efforts to convince two non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (India and the UAE) to abstain. As expected, China and Pakistan abstained, too, from voting against Russia.
India was well aware of how the two World Powers would react to its move. Still, New Delhi made this diplomatic decision after considering the complex global geopolitical landscape in order to safeguard its own interest. Some may argue that the allegation against India to back Russia is baseless, as each and every country safeguards its self-interest. India had played an important role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in the post-World War II era. At that time, no one raised such an allegation.
Hence, the real issue is Human Rights. The situation is very worrying, and Russia is the invader this time. Although there are various reasons for the Kremlin’s frustration with the situation in Ukraine, President Putin’s decision to launch a military operation may well be termed inhumane. The rules of the nuclear-armed civilised world in the 21st Century should not be like this. Russia has no right to repeat the mistake committed by other nations in the 20th Century. Notably, before and after abstaining from voting at the UN, India has repeatedly called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. It is, therefore, appropriate to view the steps taken by India as multiple levels of diplomacy. One should not forget that India could act as a mediator in order to stop the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. In fact, this aspect has become the most important, as far as diplomacy is concerned.
Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India)?
Now, India’s interests are deeply rooted in its friendship with the US. The South Asian nation needs Washington DC’s help in countering Islamic fundamentalism, as well as the Chinese aggression. So, India could protect the interests of the US and NATO, by playing the role of a mediator between the two former Soviet Republics. However, it requires intelligence, which, seemingly, is lacking in Indian Diplomacy, and it is a harsh reality. For the time being, Moscow is happy with New Delhi’s independent vision. The question arises here: whether India could use this vision to resolve the Ukraine crisis.
So far, India has cited multiple reasons for not criticising Russia. The Narendra Modi Administration has brought forth the diplomatic factor, without highlighting New Delhi’s strong dependence on the Kremlin on defence cooperation. According to experts, most of these arguments have become obsolete since the end of the Cold War. Experts are of the opinion that it would become difficult for India to purchase arms from Russia in the coming days, as the US would not exempt the South Asian nation from its sanctions for Russian weapons purchase. In other words, India might lose both the sides for its affinity towards Russia.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has admitted that Russia is the largest supplier of arms to India. At the same time, Russia is India’s most reliable diplomatic partner, as the Kremlin has backed New Delhi’s stand on the Kashmir Issue at the UN, time and again. The Russians have always actively supported India in more than one case, especially during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. Furthermore, voting against Russia at the UN would mean pushing an Old Friend more towards China, and such a move could have been dangerous for India’s (national) security.
However, analysts are not ready to buy India’s arguments. They believe that Russia, despite being India’s largest arms supplier, is not at all a reliable partner. Since Putin became President on May 7, 2000, Moscow has shown a tendency to delay the supply of weapons, bargain hard and to increase prices. Comparatively, France exports defence equipment to India, fast. However, the prices of French equipment have increased during the Modi Era.
Putin’s Russia has never criticised China for adopting aggressive foreign policy against India. Analysts have recalled that Russia kept India out of the Afghan Peace Talks in the recent past. Although India purchases huge amounts of defence equipment from Russia, Moscow still considers New Delhi as a friend of the US. When China raised the Kashmir Issue at the UN Security Council in 2019 and also in 2020, Russia maintained silence. Despite allegations of Human Rights abuses against the Modi Government at that period of time, the US and some European countries backed India.
According to diplomatic sources, the current global geopolitical landscape has shaken India’s policy towards Russia. The Indians have started criticising their Government after the death of an Indian student in Ukraine. Under pressure, New Delhi has sent humanitarian aid to Kiev. Diplomats have advised the Government of India to reform its Foreign Policy in order to play a positive role at the global stage.
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