On March 2, for the third time in less than a week, India abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations to denounce Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. in Explain her voteIndia supported the international community’s call for a cease-fire between Moscow and Kiev, renewed its belief in the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries, and stressed the need for diplomacy and dialogue to resolve the crisis, but it did not go to the extent of condemning Russia.
While those with a passing knowledge of India might find such a move by a democrat and proponent of a rules-based liberal order surprising, few familiar observers of India-Russia relations would expect New Delhi to follow the lead of Washington and European countries in its scathing anti-Russian release. statements and lead a campaign to punish Moscow. New Delhi is constrained by various factors in its relationship with Moscow and has unique stakes in this crisis that explain its somewhat muted stance thus far.
New Delhi will likely see its relative silence over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as pressure to urge Russia to moderate Chinese aggression against India, especially potential Chinese adventures on the Line of Actual Control as the snow begins to melt in the Himalayas.
First, our research shows that about 85 percent of Indian military equipment is of Russian or Soviet origin, and India continues to rely on Russia for maintenance, spare parts, and other support for its existing arsenal. Technologies that Delhi considers critical to its national security, such as the S-400 air and missile defense system, the Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles, and naval nuclear propulsion, are either developed or purchased from Moscow. Despite significant strides made in US-India defense trade in recent years, Russia remains the preferred Indian partner for new advanced systems, mainly because in many cases it has been the only country willing to offer India the most advanced defense technologies. This dependence makes India vulnerable to Russian retaliation if New Delhi does not accept Moscow’s position on Ukraine. Retaliation could come in the form of Russia refraining from emergency arms deliveries, which would be especially costly for India as it remains in confrontation with China at various points along their shared border.
The growing rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow is also a concern for New Delhi, a quasi-alliance likely to deepen further as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues and as Russian President Vladimir Putin grows increasingly isolated globally. New Delhi will likely see its relative silence over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as pressure to urge Russia to moderate Chinese aggression against India, especially potential Chinese adventures on the Line of Actual Control as the snow begins to melt in the Himalayas.
India may also feel beholden to Russia for its historic political support for New Delhi, often in opposition to Pakistan. For example, Moscow tends to block Pakistani efforts in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to seek international intervention against India over the Kashmir issue. Moreover, Indian reluctance could also be caused by its long-standing policy of strategic independence and the need to maintain a multipolar world order.
More importantly, the bias may complicate New Delhi’s efforts to ensure safe passage and the evacuation of the remaining 2,000 Indian nationals, mostly from conflict areas in the east, out of a total of more than 20,000 trapped in the crossfire in Ukraine.
However, despite these severe and understandable limitations, it is imperative that New Delhi draws the right lessons from this crisis and takes measures to secure its interests.
First, upholding and defending the standards of sovereignty and territorial integrity is critical not only from the point of view of adherence to values but also because failure to do so could undermine India’s stance towards China on the frontier. In addition, India must realize how its smaller neighbors in the Indian subcontinent such as Nepal and Bhutan as well as partners in Southeast Asia are aware of its tacit support for Russian aggression and any doubts that may be planted in their minds about New Delhi’s behavior as a regional region. Energy.
Second, this crisis should be a wake-up call for India to reduce its dependence on Russian weapons for its own benefit, not because the United States or the West want it. For decades, New Delhi has been troubled by the low quality of Russian weapons and equipment and worried that many systems have faced cost overruns and delays. Now severe sanctions against Russia and destruction in Ukraine threaten to delay the delivery of new weapons and equipment to India as well as influence or cancel projects to modernize existing systems, leaving New Delhi vulnerable. Thus, this is the right moment for New Delhi to accelerate its diversification of other defense partners as well as take seriously the localization of defense production.
The United States could be one of these key defense partners for India, especially since both share deep concerns about the threat posed by China. However, India’s lack of public criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine has disappointed US lawmakers. This stance could threaten bipartisan support in Washington to support New Delhi’s rise, and may generate pressure to sanction India for its purchase of S-400 systems from Russia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Senior Biden administration officials seem somewhat sympathetic to India’s legacy relationship with Russia and the restrictions it imposes on New Delhi. However, in the absence of stronger Indian statements or actions against Russia, members of the US Congress and the Biden administration’s working-level staff will find it more difficult to muster the domestic support needed to secure an Indian concession from CAATSA.
This crisis should be a wake-up call for India to reduce its dependence on Russian weapons for its own benefit, not because the United States or the West want it. For decades, New Delhi has been troubled by the low quality of Russian weapons and equipment and worried that many systems have faced cost overruns and delays.
Finally, with the recent death of an Indian student in Kharkiv, another citizen injured after being shot at in Kyiv, and many still stuck in active conflict zones awaiting evacuation, New Delhi must realize that Russia’s actions in Ukraine can become a domestic policy that has led to public pressure on the Indian government to re-evaluate its relations with Moscow.
What can India do to apply these lessons and secure these interests? It is reasonable to expect India to continue this diplomatic tightrope openly. However, India, in particular, should appeal to Russia to come to the negotiating table with Ukraine, because India’s primary interest is a halt to the violence and the safety of its citizens.
Like I did in the last days at the United Nations And during talks with European leaders, India should be more vocal about demanding respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, particularly in bilateral calls and readings with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Finally, Indian officials are advised to reach out to members of the US Congress to explain New Delhi’s position and the diplomatic restrictions it faces due to its reliance on Russian weapons, focusing on a possible resolution on CAATSA sanctions. For their part, the Biden administration could explore a significant package of FMF for arms sales to India that would begin to reduce its dependence on Russian arms and allow its strategic choices to be more independent of Russia in the future. To give these US officials domestic political backing to defend and prepare this package, India should signal that it will engage more substantively with the offer of the existing US F-21 fighter jet, and move to expeditiously complete the drone negotiations.
India’s provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and criticism of Russian behavior in its statements explaining its decisions to abstain in the UN Security Council vote on this issue are welcome steps. However, in his latest book detailing the logic and objectives of Indian foreign policy, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar cleverly states that “India cannot give any other country a veto over its policy choices. This is especially the case in a world where all the important players try to be open to their own choices. Nor is there any basis to suggest that India’s humble global image will be rewarded in such a way as to by political regimes that intrinsically love power.” Drawing on New Delhi’s foreign policy book, Jaishankar himself and other Indian decision-makers should heed this rationale for bolder action against Russia.
This article was originally published on the South Asian Voices website.