March 15, 2022
JAKARTA – The Ukraine crisis is a most inopportune one for India. It is a challenge to India’s ability to influence events in its favor. It has an adverse impact on India’s economy. The crisis is neither of India’s making nor of direct interest.
Such is the impact of globalization that a crisis in distant Ukraine makes India take positions and actions which perhaps it would have preferred to not do.
There is much speculation in the Western media and think tanks about India’s abstention in United Nations votes. India does not condone “condemning” Russia and its aggressive action. This needs to be better understood.
The narrative is understood better among strategic partners of India and their governments. This is different from what media and think tanks comprehend.
It is useful to deconstruct this approach, and the following needs understanding.
India has a steadfast relationship with Russia based on long-term strategic partnership. Russian support in the UN Security Council has been invaluable. India, despite diversification, depends for nearly 60 percent of its defense requirements on Russia.
India’s major strategic challenge is China. To counter China a strategic partnership with Quad countries for the Indo-Pacific is developed. The Quad met virtually at Summit level last week too.
To counter China on India’s borders, Russian defense supplies are imperative and important. Russian military support to India included a generation of technology transfers and production in India. This is the backbone of India’s define preparedness.
New diversified acquisitions of weaponry from France and the United States have not led to domestic production. Thus, India has strategic partnerships with the West and with Russia. The motivation is in both cases is China.
India is apprehensive that Russia will be further pushed into a stronger partnership with China. This may be due to Russia’s own folly. A tighter Sino-Russian embrace is not a positive strategic development for India.
In this background, a reading of India’s explanation of vote at the UN Security Council and statement in the UN General Assembly is illuminating. These indicate criticism of Russian actions in Ukraine and upholding the principles of the UN Charter and international order. There is no support for Russian aggression in the Indian statement.
Russia is not named in the statements and the vote is an abstention, not voting with Russia or against it. The statements are eloquent in their criticism. This is understood in important world capitals, but not so well understood in rapid analysis.
The principles on which India has criticized Russia included attacking others sovereign territory, using force to settle disputes and violating the UN Charter. These are important for India, which does not want Ukraine-like situations to be undertaken by China or Pakistan in India.
At the same time naming Russia closes the options for India to deal with Russia diplomatically. The abstention at the votes allowed India space. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the presidents of Russia and Ukraine besides several other leaders. He participated in the virtual Quad meeting on March 3.
This dexterous jugglery of diplomatic efforts by India became necessary because India needs to watch out for its own interests with primacy. The Western world should not take their eyes off an aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific region. Russian weaponry and Quad strategic purpose are bit important to deal with China.
Another reason to understand the Indian way is that there are about 25,000 Indian nationals, mainly students in Ukraine. Extracting and evacuating them has been a challenge mainly because of the speed with which the crisis unfolded. Among all the foreign communities in Ukraine, India has shown the best evacuation abilities so far.
Over 50 flights from neighboring countries to keep the protection of Indian nationals overseas is a high priority for the government of India and has been the subject of discussion between the prime minister and foreign minister with their counterparts in Russia, Ukraine and the neighboring countries.
This aspect of Indian diplomacy for protecting Indians overseas is not fully understood and grasped. It is only because India has kept its lines of communication with Russia open that this has been possible and despite the abstention on the vote in the UN, India’s early response for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine recognized.
To this end India consistently calls for an end to violence, return to diplomacy and humanitarian access. These are tested principles which, when neglected cause untold harm to human beings in areas of conflict.
It appears that the hobnobbing at the UN despite several votes having been taken continues. A large number of countries voted against the Russian action. Only a few countries stood with Russia.
In the Security Council, India, China and United Arab Emirates, the three Asian countries all abstained. The pattern was seen further in the UNGA.
There was a significant number of countries who abstained in the UNGA. A larger number of African countries who now have closer security links with Russia also abstained. Some were not even in the room when the vote took place.
Israel voted against Russia at the UNGA but is in close touch with Moscow. It is worried more about the situation in Syria and is keeping its commination with Russia open.
It is the same approach that India adopts. Give primacy to its national interest, its strategic focus, its nationals and to humanity. Upending the international order like Russia and its adversaries seek to do is not in India’s or anybody’s interest.