Home / Opinion / Views /  Why India has to stay above the Russia-Ukraine fray

There should be no question that Russia’s decision to formally annex the occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson violates international law and the UN Charter. And yet, India — along with China and Brazil among the major powers — abstained on the vote on draft resolution at the UN Security Council against the Russian action.

The statement by the Indian Permanent Representative to UN might suggest that India has taken the path of least resistance. Those in the business of defending India’s foreign policy decisions could tell the Americans and the West that at least it had not voted against the resolution — that would have been an indication of a larger degree of support to Moscow. Those defending the decision to the Russians can similarly say, that while New Delhi did not unequivocally support Moscow’s decision, at least it took into account some of the latter’s concerns.

You might also like

Jio will eye 5G enterprise business, not only consumer 

Zee to shut channel to allay CCI concerns over Sony deal

How tokenization will change your online purchase 

Matrimonial sites devise ways to beat dating apps

However, both for those at home as well as those abroad, it is also easy to call India out for inconsistencies in its positions. The Permanent Representative reiterated the Indian Prime Minister’s statement in his meeting with Russian President last month that “this cannot be an era of war". She also stressed that “the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected". India, however, risked nuclear conflict by sending in the Indian Air Force across the Line of Control to attack terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan in retaliation for the 2019 Pulwama terrorist attack. On the other hand, India has so far refused to retaliate against the Chinese for their violation of Indian sovereignty and territorial integrity in 2020, preferring instead to find a negotiated settlement.

It should be clear, therefore, that consistency or principled positions are difficult for big powers to maintain. And what New Delhi has done in the case of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is to hew a careful line between what from its vantage point looks like two extremes.

India has been clear about the illegality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, condemned human rights violations during the conflict, and called for negotiations to end the conflict but it is also cognizant of the complicated intertwining of history, nationalism, and security dilemmas on all sides that the events in Ukraine represent.

For one, whatever Russia’s immediate reasons for the invasion of Ukraine, at the heart of it lie concerns about NATO expansion eastwards and a sharp sense of betrayal by the US about promises made following the end of the Cold War that this would not happen. That these concerns were not entirely unfounded is evident from the post-invasion military and other material support to Ukraine from NATO member states as well as its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s responding to the latest Russian annexations by saying he would apply for fast-track membership to the NATO. That the US or NATO might not quickly accede to this request, if at all, can surely be put down to the Russian willingness to raise the stakes with the threat of nuclear weapons.

For another, it also seems to be the case that the US-led West is unwilling to offer Moscow any off-ramps — “pathways" in the words of the Indian Permanent Representative — from the conflict. The Ukrainians emboldened by their military successes have scaled up their ambitions to evicting the Russians not only from territory the latter have occupied in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the present conflict but also from Crimea occupied in 2014. For New Delhi, however, it would seem that the Ukrainians are now being pushed by the West to continue a fight they cannot possibly win, if at all, except at great cost to themselves.

Given Russia’s interference in the US electoral process and its subsequent classification as a "strategic adversary", American actions might seem entirely justified and appropriate. But from New Delhi’s perspective, if Putin’s fall is what the Americans are looking for through a prolonged conflict, there is no guarantee that his replacement will be any better and every possibility that the cascading economic consequences of the conflict for the developing world will set off new crises elsewhere.

Therefore, even leaving aside its own political and economic interests — ability to access Russian crude at discounted rates, being able to moderate the Russia-China alignment as well as a need to buffer itself from US unreliability (consider the latter’s sudden exit from Afghanistan) — there are good reasons for India to continue its current record of abstentions at the UN Security Council.

Elsewhere in Mint

In Opinion, Manu Joseph tells why intellectuals are wrong about the rise of the right in Europe. Ankita Thakur says location data can boost enterprise in tier II and III cities. Andy Mukherjee says India’s internet policy mustn’t develop a Chinese character. Long Story explores the possibility of a smogless November this year.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less

Recommended For You

Trending Stocks

Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsWatchlistFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout