“The war will end, and leaders will shake hands. That old woman will keep waiting for her martyred son. And those children will keep waiting for their hero father. I don’t know who sold our homeland, but I saw who paid the price.”
The words mentioned above by Mahmoud Darwish, accurately illustrate the detrimental consequences of a war, where influential players steer their self-governing interests while others bear the brunt. The sentiment unambiguously resonates with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war that cropped up in February 2022 and has continued to escalate without a resolution.
In the midst of turmoil and complex geopolitical intricacies, the Russia-Ukraine war emerges as a watershed moment, contouring the course of international politics. The question of membership of Ukraine in NATO, becoming the immediate cause of Russia’s invasion.
In this geopolitical landscape, many countries have already taken sides, but India has chosen a different path-that of strategic ambivalence.
Multialignment and India’s Quandary
India placed itself in an uneasy situation by abstaining to vote against Russia on International platforms. Delhi declined to categorically call out Russia “the instigator of the crisis”. Due to this, it garnered criticism across the globe for not standing against belligerent Russia and taking a “subtle pro-Moscow position.”
India’s position in the war can be attributed to a delicate balance of interests at play. While India urged, perhaps a bit more subtly than is justified, peace, cooperation, dialogue, diplomacy, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, it treads cautiously to avoid taking a confrontational stance. As asserted by India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, “the global order is anchored on international law, [the] UN Charter and respect for [the] territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.”
Nonetheless, there are various underlying reasons for this diplomatic tightrope. The foremost being, the sturdy friendship that began in 1955 in support of Indian claims over Jammu and Kashmir.
Since then, the Soviet Union vetoed in UNSC on behalf of India on different occasions. Further, it has come to salvage India at prominent events, fostering the development of bonhomie between the two countries. This consideration has strengthened India’s reluctance to denounce Russia. It pictures Russia as a crucial partner which would be an unassailable haven in the future. Even, in the past, India overlooked the Soviet Union’s involvement in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan although these sabotaged India’s vital principle of non-interference and sovereignty. According to critics, present constrained choice holds much to past forbearance and the ‘charitable position’ chosen by India.
Another factor is the strategic partnership, which, accentuated by former Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, has been built on politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, and anti-terrorism cooperation, as well as the advancement of and exploration of outer space travel. The West alleges that India’s reliance on Russia for weapons, military equipment, energy security, and technology transfer through co-development and co-production has led to a perceived bias in India’s approach toward Russia’s controversial actions. As articulated by Sumit Ganguly, it is “Moscow’s long-standing support for India’s position on Kashmir and India’s reliance on the Russian arms industry which has led India to avoid condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.
Moreover, India confronts two nuclear power neighbours, China and Pakistan, with which it has historical feuds and boundary confrontations. These neighbouring threats together with the USA’s posture backed by India against the Chinese irredentist (advocating the restoration to their country of any territory formerly belonging to it.) and assertive policies have pushed Russia’s proximity to China. Alexander Korolev, in his paper, “On the Verge of an Alliance: Contemporary China-Russia Military Cooperation” argues that Moscow and Beijing formed a partnership that is on the verge of evolving into a full military alliance, an alliance that would complicate India–Russia relations given its rivalry and ongoing border standoff with China. Hence, India’s diverse alignment with Quad countries especially the US and Japan, the arch-rival of Russia, would estrange its “most reliable and long-term partner” and Delhi can’t afford to rely on the West’s “predatory geopolitics.”
Albeit in the past, the US provided military and political support to India yet India’s Nostalgia for Russia as a “dependable partner” takes precedence over the former’s strategic or economic partnership.
India’s eschewing public criticism by neither vilifying nor endorsing Russia’s act put forth myriad consequences her way. It was categorized as not holding liberal International order human rights, International trade order, and Maritime common rules. To this, many critics articulated that the rules-based international order legitimizes the choices of the Global North, and India can’t vouch for such a colonialist paradigm. According to Sumit Ganguly, India’s support for some aspects of the liberal international order remains “limited and tentative.” He contends that India’s path to attaining great power status within this framework hinges on the presence of robust power centres capable of providing substantial strength and support.
India’s strategic autonomy
“This is a time to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, and bring Japan into play.”S. Jaishankar
The palpable stand opted by India for safeguarding interest gives her the leverage to carve out the politics of decision-making in the arena of the International community. India is driving a bumpy road of multifaceted but cautious alliances in a complicated geopolitical conundrum. The realistic attitude of India if not Realist, would definitely assist her in manoeuvring between the poles.
India’s preference for multipolar International Order, diverse poles, and multi-engagement would aid in securing gains without tying up with any power. As Happymon Jacob summarized it, “An aggressive Russia is a problem for the United States and the West, not for India. [The] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion is Russia’s problem, not India’s. India’s problem is China, and it needs both the United States and Russia to deal with the ‘China problem.’ Furthermore, India has to sail with the growing, sensitive, and challenging world order with an attentive approach to a “balance of power trends.” In the era of “extreme global fluidity,” India has to strike an equilibrium along with consensus in her strategy of alignment.
As stated by S.Jaishankar, “This is a time to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, and bring Japan into play.” Instead of looking at disruption as a net negative, India should not only engage with such trends but should also try to proactively shape them to the nation’s advantage. It is in the very nature of power to evolve, and that evolution is always disruptive for some.
As India’s leaders navigate the complex web of international relations, they heed the wise counsel of Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, who once said, “In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” India’s neutrality doesn’t mean its passivity in this whole gambit of endless war rather India does play an active role in ameliorating the tensions between the two countries that have caused an undesirable chain of crisis in the world.
In conclusion, by embracing the spirit of innovation, resilience, and adaptability, India carves its path of progress in a world characterized by constant change. As the sun sets on the Russia-Ukraine war and rises on a new day of diplomacy, India’s unwavering pursuit of its interests while promoting peace echoes the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” India continues to be a trailblazer, inspiring others to follow the path of responsible global citizenship in the pursuit of a better world for all.