Ukraine-Russia crisis: Where does India stand?

Hello reader. In case you end up reading the entire article, you should hopefully gain some insights about what India’s stance in the current Ukraine-Russia crisis is, what some of the reasons for the same are, and a brief understanding of what India’s position had been in similar situations in the past.

“India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine. We urge that all efforts are made for the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities,”- T.S. Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador.

With the above-mentioned statement, India abstained from a UNSC resolution brought by the US and Albania on 26th February 2022. The resolution deplored Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, asking Moscow to withdraw all its military forces from Ukraine and directing it to unconditionally reverse the decision regarding the status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. India was one of the three countries to exercise abstention.

In the ongoing crisis, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Cuba support the Russian side, whereas, India, China, and Azerbaijan have maintained a neutral stance. Focusing specifically on India, it shares a “special and privileged strategic partnership” with Russia which dates back to the era of the Cold War. So close were the relations that India, despite being a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, had signed the 20-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, in the middle of 1971. Ever since, India has received both diplomatic as well as trade related support from Russia.

The following are some of the major reasons for India’s neutral stance in the Ukraine-Russia crisis-

The Defense angle- Russia is the largest arms supplier to India, accounting for 49% (worth roughly $6.6 billion) of India’s arms imports for the period 2016–20. This figure earlier stood at a whooping 70% but it has been consciously brought down by India in an attempt to diversify its portfolio and to encourage domestic defense manufacturing. However, this being said, India has three pressure points when it comes to the defense sector.

  1. In 2018, India had signed a $5.34 billion deal with Russia for the procurement of the S-400 missile defense system. It has started receiving the delivery since December 2021, but now this deal is under threat from Washington’s CAATSA.
  2. Another deal that could face an adverse impact is the $375 million defense contract between India and the Philippines, which requires vital components from Russia.
  3. Many Indian navy warships depend on Ukrainian gas turbines including those under construction in Russian shipyards. So India has an interest in not alienating Ukraine.

The International-Relations angle- Under this reason come the diplomatic relationships between Russia-China-India, Russia-Pakistan, and India-US. In the events following the annexation of Crimea by Russia, India had supported Russia and on the other hand, Beijing had maintained a neutral stance. In the current crisis, while India has maintained a balanced position, Beijing somehow seems to be leaning in support of Russia. This is not a very welcome development for India, since if the Western condemnation of Russia’s actions intensifies, it might put Moscow-Delhi partnership at serious risk. Also, Russia and Pakistan’s recent engagement via the $2.5 billion natural gas pipeline project, signed in 2021, and to start this year tentatively, has been a cause of concern for India. Talking about the US, it is well aware of India’s compulsions when it comes to China and understands the relation that India shares with Russia. India needs both Russia and the US in order to counter the Chinese military and protect its border areas. The US sees India as its main ally in its plans to counter the rise of China in Asia and so does Russia, which does not want China to be calling the shots in Asia. The Biden administration which is currently not slapping any sanctions on India, may have to give in to Congressional pressure in case if its lawmakers push hard against India.

The Indian Nationals angle- The Indian government has a major responsibility to evacuate close to 20,000 Indian citizens, mostly students, from the warring countries. India is one of the few nations that has received support in this endeavour from both Ukraine and Russia, owing to the amicable relations that it shares with both the countries.

The Crude Oil angle- High energy prices is one of the reasons why India is pressing for cessation of violence, urgent de-escalation and dialogue between Ukraine and Russia. India imports close to 86% of its crude oil requirements, and with the crude oil prices reaching a record-high of $140 per barrel on 6th March 2022, India is on the path to see a major setback in its current-account and inflation numbers, if the situation does not improve. However, desperate Russian companies whose businesses has been crippled by the stringent sanctions imposed by the US and the EU are ready to offer India as much as 25–27% discount to the date Brent crude prices, provided the Indian government quickly approves a payment mechanism to bypass the SWIFT ban on Russia.

Having covered the present scenario, let us now take a dive into the past, and see what India’s stance has been in similar crises witnessed in the earlier decades.

India has historically avoided taking a clear stance on many foreign military interventions, rationalizing its decision by highlighting its commitment to non-alignment, which gives it the freedom to pursue its independent foreign policy and to take case-by-case decisions. So, while it had condemned the Vietnam war, it had refused to support a US-sponsored resolution to condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the considerations of the then leaders similar to what it is today; opposing the Soviet Republic could undermine Soviet support in the UNSC over the Kashmir dispute. When the Soviet invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, India was silent on the subject.

It is time to wrap up this article. A few questions, one of which will be the topic of discussion in my next article-

  1. Why is US against Russia in the Ukraine-Russia crisis?
  2. What impact can the Ukraine-Russia crisis have on India-US relations, both diplomatic and trade?
  3. So far, what impact have the sanctions imposed on Russia had on the Russian economy, and how can China help Russia in the current situation?

Some facts that I came across while writing this article-

  1. Apart from India, China and UAE were the other 2 nations that exercised abstention in the UNSC resolution presented on 26th February 2022.
  2. The QUAD consists of Japan, US, Australia, and India, and its main purpose is to check China’s growing military and economic clout around the Indian Ocean.
  3. India’s top three arms suppliers during 2016–20 were Russia (accounting for 49% of India’s imports), France (18%), and Israel (13%).
  4. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a United States federal law which among other things, imposes new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

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