India must revisit its position on Ukraine crisis : The Tribune India

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one year of Ukraine war

India must revisit its position on Ukraine crisis

A position of neutrality on Ukraine may have diminishing returns. A rigorous evaluation of the assumptions and calculus behind the current stance is important. While Russian support to India on the Kashmir issue may have helped at the UNSC in the past, the fact is that the context has entirely changed. A lot has changed as expending diplomatic capital on an issue that has long been pushed to the back burner at the Security Council has its costs.

India must revisit its position on Ukraine crisis

BALANCING ACT: A carefully articulated neutrality has defined India’s position on the Ukraine war for over a year now. Reuters



Luv Puri

Journalist and Author

THE Ukraine crisis has left its imprint on the G20 agenda, and with India being the G20 president this year, its foreign policy and orientations are being tested in the face of global fault lines.

The G20, which includes 19 prominent nations in addition to the European Union, accounts for 85 per cent of the global economic output and is arguably the most significant international forum in the present geo-economic arena.

The recently concluded G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi, with no joint statement, is a manifestation of the geopolitical fault lines. In the same vein, a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Bengaluru couldn’t come up with a common statement.

In Bali, with Indonesia as the G20 president in 2022, the leaders had agreed to a joint statement. Obviously, the current situation is not a reflection of India’s ability as a host but more of the chasm that exists within the international system.

On the verge of becoming the most populous country, as per the latest UN estimates, India’s voice and position count within the Global South as well as the Global North. A carefully articulated neutrality has defined India’s position on the Ukraine crisis for over a year now. India has consistently abstained from the Ukraine-centric UNSC resolutions, including those which were not entirely anti-Russia.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was recently in India on a two-day visit, asked his European colleagues to be more understanding towards India’s stance on the crisis. At the same time, as the G20 host and keeping in mind its immediate as well as long-term interests, it is time that India revisits its position of overt neutrality on Ukraine.

This is because a neutral stand on Ukraine may have diminishing returns. A rigorous evaluation of the assumptions and calculus behind the current stance, both internalised as well as overtly stated, is the need of the hour.

The time-tested India-Russia ties are at the heart of New Delhi’s neutrality. In this regard, strong Russian support to India on J&K since Independence epitomises this strong relationship. As the Cold War created its own alignments and the Communist Party’s First Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, visited Srinagar in 1955, Russia’s support to India on Jammu and Kashmir became overt as it abstained and vetoed tactically at the UNSC to favour India. This support has stood the test of time and this was also reflected in the post-August 5, 2019, developments at the UNSC.

The Russian Federation’s present stance on India and Pakistan can be understood from the August 9, 2019, statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The statement had said, “We proceed from the fact that the changes associated with the change in the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and its division into two union territories are carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India. We hope that the parties involved will not allow a new aggravation of the situation in the region as a result of the decisions.”

Another key factor is the Russian-origin defence equipment supplies and cheaper crude oil to India. India is reportedly the world’s biggest buyer of Russian arms; Moscow supplied India arms worth around $13 billion in the past five years. India has been able to ward off criticism about its Russian crude oil imports, which have reportedly jumped about five times to $37.31 billion (April 2022 to January 2023) on account of increasing inbound shipments of crude oil from that country. The jump can be gauged from the fact that in 2021-22, Russia was India’s 18th largest import partner, accounting for $9.86 billion of imports, whereas now Russia has reportedly become India’s fourth largest import source during the 10-month period of the current fiscal.

While Russian support to India on the Kashmir issue may have helped at the UNSC in the past, the fact is that the context has entirely changed. A lot changed, particularly in the past two decades, as expending diplomatic capital on an issue that had long been pushed to the back burner at the Security Council for nearly five decades had its costs.

China’s aggressive diplomacy on J&K, including using its P-5 perch, and aggressive moves along the Line of Actual Control, were no surprise. For instance, in contrast to other council members from the West, France has been outspoken in underlining the importance of the bilateral ambit between India and Pakistan. The fact is that the UNSC is not a threat to India’s position on J&K now and there is enough sympathy for New Delhi’s stance within the P-3 (UNSC permanent members France, the UK and the US), particularly France. In fact, France was one of the vocal members demanding the sanctioning of Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, on the Security Council’s 1267 Sanctions Committee list.

Coming to cheaper crude oil, it is unlikely that Russia will back out from supplying it to India in the immediate future as it is a key source of funding for Moscow. On defence supplies, it is generally agreed that Russian weaponry has proved to be inferior to the western sources. India requires cutting-edge technology to face China’s military posturing in high-altitude areas. It is doubtful that Russia will help India vis-à-vis China in this regard. The recent dialogue between US President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval assumes importance. Both countries launched the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies and the rationale behind the dialogue is the larger challenge posed by China, including its aggressive military moves.

No one is expecting India to completely reverse its stance on Ukraine or dilute its strategic autonomy. But a more assertive stand in respecting a country’s sovereignty and the UN Charter than what has been seen in the past year is in line with India’s strategic interests — immediate as well as long-term.



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