India chooses interests over principles in Russia-Ukraine conflict, says The Hindu

New Delhi, February 28 (KMS): Although Russian military action in Ukraine has put India in a catch 22 situation, yet it opted for a relatively less harmful option of expressing displeasure over the Russian action and balancing it by abstaining an anti-Moscow vote in the UN Security Council because of the recognition about the weakening of the US-led global order and the rise of China as a counter-pole, geographically located right next to India, an article appeared in Indian newspaper The Hindu wrote. This, the article says, means India’s ability to be a ‘swing state’, ‘major power’ or a ‘leading power’ stands diminished.

The article written by Happymon Jacob who teaches India’s Foreign Policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, points out that after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, New Delhi was left with four potential options; to condemn the Russian action, to support it, to stay silent or to express displeasure and call for diplomacy.

“The first option will pit India against Russia, the second will pit it against the US and its allies, the third option will be read as pro-Russia, and the fourth option — which New Delhi has taken — is the least harmful,” the newspaper said.

“New Delhi’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict appears to have been shaped by harsh geopolitical circumstances, that it is in the middle of, than its normative beliefs or preferences. Late last week, India abstained from a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution which called for condemning the Russian military action against Ukraine, but it went on to note its uneasiness of the Russian action in writing.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the war broke out, called for an “immediate cessation of violence” and has so far refused to pay heed to Ukrainian Ambassador to India Igor Polikha’s impassioned pleas urging Modi to mediate with Putin to halt Russian military advances. With the UNSC deadlock, friends with both the United States/West and Russia, and passionately urged by Ukraine, New Delhi is uniquely placed to undertake some much-needed mediation between the rival sides. But it has chosen to stay on the margins and do no more than the unavoidable minimum. New Delhi just wants this to be over with.

“New Delhi has taken a subtle pro-Moscow position on the question of Russian attacks against Ukraine. This pro-Russia tilt is not just the position of the Indian government, but is something, somewhat surprisingly, shared by much of the Indian strategic community as well. More notably, one is increasingly hearing subtle, though indirect, justifications of the Russian military actions from the doyens of the Indian strategic community. India’s Russia tilt should be seen not just as a product of its time-tested friendship with Moscow but also as a geopolitical necessity.”

The article further adds: “There are understandable reasons for India’s (subtle) pro-Russia position. An aggressive Russia is a problem for the U.S. and the West, not for India. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion is Russia’s problem, not India’s. India’s problem is China, and it needs both the U.S./the West and Russia to deal with the ‘China problem’.”

The writer counts another factor behind India’s not explicit position against Russia, and it is “a sobering recognition in New Delhi about the weakening of the US-led global order and the rise of China as a counter-pole, geographically located right next to India. US withdrawal from the region and its decline as the principal system shaper has complicated India’s place in regional geopolitics. Neighbouring China as the rising superpower and Russia as its strategic ally challenging the US-led global order at a time when China has time and again acted on its aggressive intentions vis-à-vis India, and when India is closest to the US than ever before in its history, throws up a unique and unprecedented challenge for India.”

“Therefore, having Russia on its side is crucial for India, more than ever. Moscow may or may not be able to moderate Chinese antagonism towards New Delhi, but an India-Russia strategic partnership may be able to temper New Delhi’s growing isolation in a rather friendless region.”

“Second, there is an emerging dualism in contemporary Indian strategic Weltanschauung: the predicament of a continental space that is reeling under immense pressure from China, Pakistan and Taliban-led Afghanistan adding to its strategic claustrophobia; and, the emergence of a maritime sphere which presents an opportunity to break out of the same.”

“India’s responses to the Russian action against Ukraine underline the fact that India is operating from a position of geopolitical vulnerability. While the Indian stand does reek of realpolitik, it reeks more of strategic weakness. Here is a country located in a hostile neighbourhood trying to make the best of a terrible situation it finds itself in. This then means that, going forward, India’s ability to be a “swing state”, “major power” or a “leading power” stands diminished. So we must expect more middle-of-the-road behaviour from New Delhi rather than resolute positions on global strategic developments.”

“India’s position also shows the unmistakable indication that when it comes to geopolitics, New Delhi will choose interests over principles.”

“Going forward, if tensions between Russia and the West persist, balancing extremes will be a key feature of Indian diplomacy,” Happymon Jacob wrote but he did not give his analysis about
India’s future course if the Russia-Ukraine war spills over and becomes a war between Russia-China-led group versus US-led NATO group. Now when China, analysts ask, itself sides with Russia, where will India go?

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