The Indian Piece of the Russia-Ukraine Puzzle – Analysis – Eurasia Review


By Stuti Bhatnagar*

Although largely a European conflict, Russia’s assault on Ukraine also has significance for South Asia. It highlighted India’s status as a regional power and exposed its limits in the exercise of this power. India has repeatedly abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations and yet publicly condemned Russia for its attack on Ukraine.

In an explanation of its vote, India supported the international community’s call for “a cessation of violence and hostilities” and “stressed the need for diplomacy and dialogue to resolve the crisis”. New Delhi is constrained by its relationship with Moscow and has geopolitical stakes in this crisis, which explains its caution so far.

India and Russia enjoyed a special relationship even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While India practiced non-alignment, its relations with the Soviet Union flourished, as evidenced by agreements such as the 1971 Treaty of Friendship. The Russian-Indian relationship was later strengthened by the declaration of strategic partnership of 2010 and the reiteration of the special relationship during the visit of President Vladimir Putin to India in 2021.

IndiaThe relationship with Russia is most visible in the defense sector. India remained the main recipient of Russian arms, accounting for 23% of Russia’s total arms exports in 2016-2020. It is estimated that 60-85% of India’s military hardware is Russian, including submarines, tanks and fighter jets. In 2018, India signed a $5 billion deal to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems and formalized the manufacture and co-production of frigates and the AK-203 assault rifle.

These orders and deliveries are expected to lead to an increase in Russian arms exports over the next five years. Russia is also crucial to Indian energy concerns and is a main supplier of civilian nuclear technology.

Politically, Russia has expressed support for India’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council and remains a key partner in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) forum. ). Russian support is also decisive in India’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The strong bilateral ties have resulted in high-level visits, including Putin’s visit to India in December 2021 and Modi’s visit to Vladivostok in 2019, which led to the announcement of India’s Politics Act. East, extending a line of credit worth $1 billion.

India’s relations with Russia, however, have left it in a difficult position due to its developing partnership with the United States. The Russian-made S-400 missile deal put India in the shadow of Washington’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

India and the United States are also involved in the Quadrilateral Dialogue (Quad). This made India a vital part of US strategy in the Indo-Pacific and exalted India to a more proactive political position in the region.

India’s relations with Russia are complicated by China’s growing presence in the region, especially given the recent slowdown in IndiaRelations with China. India is keen to maintain its friendship with Russia in order to work towards bilateral goals and prevent Russia from aligning itself more closely with China. Russia played a constructive role in bringing Indian and Chinese leaders to an agreement after the 2020 border dispute in Ladakh. Although not officially recognized as a mediator, it is important to identify Russia’s role in facilitating de-escalation.

India also has interests in Ukraine due to defense agreements, in particular the US$400 million contract to upgrade the Indian Air Force’s An-32 fleet. India is Ukraine’s biggest export destination in the Asia-Pacific region, buying agricultural and metallurgical products, plastics and polymers. India also exports pharmaceuticals, machinery, chemicals and foodstuffs to Ukraine.

While safeguarding its economic and military interests in Ukraine and Russia is important for India, the safety of Indian students in Ukraine has required urgent attention. In a tense rescue operation, India brought back more than 17,000 of its nationals from Ukraine as of March 9, 2022.

India’s need to diversify its arms exports and increase its self-reliance in defense manufacturing has found a new voice in the current crises. While the Indian government has embarked on a number of initiatives including Made in India in 2014 and the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (autonomous India) in 2020 — collaboration with Russia remains crucial. Sanctions on Russian imports would likely impact the Indian defense industry and associated projects, such as the recently signed $375 million BrahMos cruise missile contract between India and the Philippines, which requires vital components of Russia.

While India’s partners in the Quad and other Western states, including Ukraine, have expressed disappointment at New Delhi’s inability or unwillingness to condemn Russia, a broader understanding of the interests Indian politicians offer a better image. The government is keen to continue on the announced path of ‘multipolarityto guide its international behavior, particularly vis-à-vis Russia, offering an opportunity for the “legitimate pursuit of flexibility without seeking exclusivity”.

The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted the limits of Indian power and called into question its reliability as an Indo-Pacific actor. Given geopolitical concerns and strategic interests, India is likely to continue to balance its relationship with Russia and the West as it attempts to protect critical military and energy needs and prevent China from acquiring a stronger position in the region.

*About the author: Stuti Bhatnagar is a Postdoctoral Fellow (Asian Security) at the Center for Defense and Strategic Studies, Australian National University.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum


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