Preserving its economic interests, India, a historic ally of Russia, still refuses to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. A month after the start of the war, the country finds itself at odds, torn between growing Western pressure, particularly from the United States, a strategic partner in the Pacific, and the fear of seeing Moscow get closer to its enemies, China and Pakistan.

For the past month, the war in Ukraine has dominated diplomatic agendas. United States, European Union, Japan… Every day brings its share of sanctions and new convictions against Russia. In this diplomatic ballet, however, India seems determined to remain in the background and avoid the subject at all costs.

The latest example: during a bilateral summit organized between India and Australia on Monday March 21, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the meeting by referring to “the very worrying backdrop of war in Europe” and denounced “the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia”. Narendra Modi, for his part, confined himself to considerations relating to trade, technologies or even cricket, without ever mentioning the Ukrainian file.

India also abstained during the five votes organized at the UN aimed at condemning Moscow’s attitude, in particular within the framework of a resolution of the Human Rights Council demanding an independent investigation into the violations committed. by Russia in Ukraine.

Thus, if the war in Ukraine has led certain countries like Germany to upset their diplomatic and defense policies, India seems to want to maintain its course at all costs by sparing its Western partners as well as its Russian ally. With the conflict getting bogged down, his position could quickly become untenable.

A “non-aligned” country

During the Cold War, India was one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), those countries which refused to align themselves officially with the United States or the USSR. Today, this movement still strives to maintain this posture. For India, this means not turning away from any country but also not engaging in any military alliance or interfering in foreign conflicts. Since the end of the Cold War, New Delhi has maintained close trade relations with Russia. But that hasn’t stopped him from getting closer to the United States in recent years as well.

So, of the 35 countries that abstained in the UN vote on March 3 calling for an immediate end to the invasion of Ukraine, all countries – except China – are members. of the MNA.

“We are facing one of the most serious cases of aggression by a country since the end of the Second World War”, denounces to France 24 Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, in the States -United. “Why did some thirty countries refuse to condemn the Russian invasion? The answer is simple: because it was not in their interest to vote in favor of this resolution. In the end, it is the interests, and not morality, which guide foreign policy decisions.”

oil and weapons

Set back during the first days of the Russian invasion, New Delhi took a further step on March 9. As Western economic sanctions began to be felt in Moscow, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced to several media outlets that Russia had made an “open offer” to India for the sale of crude oil. at a reduced price. An attractive offer which ended, ten days later, with the purchase of 5 million barrels of crude oil at a knockdown price. The transaction was made in rupees converted into rubles to circumvent Western sanctions.

But it is especially in the field of defense that India is dependent on Russia. “Moscow is historically New Delhi’s leading arms supplier, with whom it also conducts numerous technology exchanges”, explains to France 24 Avinash Paliwal, professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) from the University of London. And to insist: “The Indian armed forces are mainly equipped with Russian armaments.”

Russia is the world’s largest arms exporter after the United States: it represents nearly 20% of global exports between 2017 and 2021, According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri). And India alone receives 28% of these Russian exports.

And if, for several years, India has been trying to diversify its supply, turning in particular to France, Israel and the United States, it remains highly dependent on Moscow. In total, according to data collected by the American NGO Stimsonabout 85% of India’s current arsenal thus comes from the former Soviet Union or Russia.

“Russia is providing weapons at bargain prices. Take for example the S-400 missile defense system which New Delhi considers essential for its national security. No other country is willing to come up with a better deal,” says Michael Kugelman .

Fear in the Face of Pakistani and Chinese Enemies

“India is currently facing a double threat, that of China and that of Pakistan”, continues the specialist. “So she has a strong demand for military equipment to deter Beijing and cannot afford to refuse Russian imports.”

Especially since the war in Ukraine is giving rise to new concern, that of seeing Moscow, strengthened in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in August 2021, strengthening its ties with Pakistan. On February 24, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine, the Pakistani Prime Minister was also visiting the Kremlin. And while the condemnations of the international community were linked to the vision of Russian troops crossing the border, Imran Khan assured that it was “exciting” to be in the Russian capital.

India also fears that Russia, isolated due to economic sanctions, will approach its enemy China. “Seeing an important ally, Russia, become economically and diplomatically dependent on an adversary – China – is not to New Delhi’s advantage”, analyzes Avinash Paliwal. “With the war in Ukraine, Sino-Russian ties have taken a new turn, and this is to the benefit of China.”

Losing an ally in the Indo-Pacific

If India depends militarily on Russia in its fight against the Chinese threat, it is also this that had pushed it to approach the United States and become a member of the informal Quad alliance. This group, which also includes Australia, Japan and the United States, focuses on the Indo-Pacific region and aims to be a counterweight to Beijing.

And while the war in Ukraine risks throwing Moscow into the arms of Beijing, it also risks distracting the United States from the Indo-Pacific theater, according to Michael Kugelman. “It could encourage Washington to downgrade the Chinese threat and focus on Europe. India doesn’t want that,” he said.

To date, India is the only Quad member that has not condemned the Russian invasion. The four countries “have very different points of view on the Russian question and this is one of the few political disagreements within the group”, he specifies.

By maintaining its relations with Russia, New Delhi risks offending its American ally. “History will remember which side India stands on in this war,” warned Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, after the announcement of the purchase of barrels of oil.

A role of mediator?

For Michael Kugelman, India could get out of this diplomatic trap by adopting the path of mediation. “I think India is well placed to play the role of negotiator. None of the other countries that have offered to mediate – Israel, France or Turkey – have the kind of deep relationship that New Delhi has with Moscow.” , he believes.

“India is sensitive to criticism that it does not weigh heavily enough on the international stage. If it agrees to play the role of mediator, and can help end the war, it would show its ability to do important things and significant in the world.” But there again, taking on this role of mediator would mean departing from its policy of non-interference in foreign disputes.

This article was translated from English by Cyrielle Cabot, the original can be found here.

Leave a Reply