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The enduring enigma of India-Russia relations

India cannot afford to take sides in the east European war. Mutual goodwill will help ensure its food and energy security.

The enduring enigma of India-Russia relations

OFF THE MARK: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba. It is unreasonable of Kyiv to expect New Delhi to reduce its dependence on Moscow. PTI

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Author and Columnist

DURING his recent trip to New Delhi, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, whose country has been at war with Russia for over two years, urged India “not to rely on Russia” and ‘reconsider’ its traditionally close relationship with Moscow. Kuleba told Delhi that “cooperation between India and Russia is largely based on the Soviet legacy” and “it’s not a legacy that can be kept for centuries… the legacy is evaporating”.

Kuleba was a guest from a country that regards India as a friend and a potential mediator in the Russia-Ukraine war. Not surprisingly, India adhered to the official convention, norms and protocol like a graceful host rather than embarrassing him with a harsh retort. Nevertheless, a counter-narrative about the guest’s sermon definitely wouldn’t be unwarranted in order to put things in a broader and proper perspective.

Kuleba knows very well that Russia and Ukraine are friendly to India, which stands neutral as a third party in their conflict. For more than three decades, Ukraine has been India’s trusted and dependable partner, just as Russia has been Delhi’s reliable ally since Independence.

Both Ukraine and Russia were part of the erstwhile USSR for decades. Ukraine simply cannot distance itself from the historical achievements of the USSR, which stole a march on the US in the space race and gave the West a run for its money in the Olympics.

Let’s try to unravel the ‘mystery’ of the enduring Russia-India bonhomie, attributed by Ukraine to the ‘Soviet legacy’. Newly Independent India was not taken seriously by the British, going by the remarks of a known Delhi-baiter, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Then PM Nehru visited London in 1953 to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. However, among the British PMs who were Nehru’s contemporaries, Churchill, Anthony Eden and Alec Douglas Home did not bother to travel to India.

Then US President Harry Truman, however, warmly hosted Nehru during a state visit in October 1949, even though Washington regarded India as a poor Third World nation.

In contrast to the British cold shoulder, Nehru paid a state visit to the USSR in June 1955. The gesture was warmly reciprocated by Moscow’s topmost leaders Nikolai Bulganin (Prime Minister) and Nikita Khrushchev (First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR) with a three-week-long visit in November-December 1955, covering the length and breadth of India. Indians turned out in millions to greet the Russian leaders, with the people of Calcutta in particular showering love and respect on the visiting duo. The USSR, despite being a communist state that was poles apart from the Indian political establishment, played a pivotal role in strengthening bilateral ties even during tough times faced by India, such as the 1962 Chinese invasion. The Soviet Union consistently used its veto power in the UN Security Council to bail out India whenever the West had ideas inimical to Delhi’s sovereignty. These are undeniable facts, and there is nothing to suggest that Moscow, despite the ongoing global turbulence, has deviated from this path.

All this, however, has not been related to suggest that the Moscow-Delhi relationship has always been picture-perfect. There have been tensions at times, but what has triumphed in the end is the mutual appreciation guided by maturity and profound diplomatic wisdom, often conspicuous by their absence from India’s engagement with some other major powers.

The year 1971 was the apogee of the Moscow-Delhi ties, making it the ‘finest hour’ for then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In one stroke, the West, China and Pakistan were humbled by the strength and sincerity of the Indo-Soviet relationship. Months before the creation of Bangladesh, India and the USSR signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. The pact was guided by the desire to expand and consolidate the “existing relations of sincere friendship” between the two nations.

Indeed, the journey, which began in the 1950s, continues today owing to an understanding of each other’s point of view and appreciation of each other’s national interests. When the West shut its door for arms on India, Russia gave it the latest and the best which it was using itself, with no strings attached.

Ukraine’s contribution in this regard cannot be ignored. The Indian Air Force’s transport aircraft Antonov An-12 and An-32 are Kyiv-manufactured. The Indian Navy’s Kashin-class destroyers were built at the Nikolayev shipyard near Mykolayiv (Ukraine). And even today, Russian contribution to the Navy and other sectors continues. There exists multi-faceted Russia-India connectivity, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Ukraine, too, is India’s friend. Hence, to suggest that India should choose between Ukraine and Russia because “you have to take sides” is absurd and not feasible. India will always give priority to its national interests, which override all other considerations. New Delhi cannot afford to take sides in the east European war. Only mutual goodwill and an uninterrupted flow of essential commodities will help ensure India’s food and energy security.

#Russia #Ukraine

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