Caught in limbo: India and the Russo-Ukraine conflict

Some 5,000 odd kilometers separate Ukraine and India. The fallout of the growing Russo-Ukraine standoff, however, will be felt by New Delhi in a matter of seconds. As the US and its allies put up a united front against Russia’s actions on the Ukrainian border, the prospect of a military conflict is growing by the hour.

Despite exhortations from multiple corners to all parties to de-escalate tensions, the situation on the ground is very grim. Both Russia and Ukraine have amassed men and machinery on their respective sides of the border, in what is being predicted to be the ‘biggest conflict since World War 2’, should hostilities breakout.

The increasing likelihood of military action will certainly ruffle some feathers in New Delhi. India cannot afford to be caught out if and when the situation in Ukraine goes hot. In such a scenario, the bigwigs in the government will have some hard diplomatic maneuvering to do vis-à-vis relations with Russia, China, the US and Europe.

Russian military action in Ukraine will definitely facilitate closer Sino-Russian ties as Moscow will look to Beijing for support, something that India is keen to avoid. After the recent flare-ups on the Sino-Indian front, a chummy Sino-Russian relation is the last thing India wants. Although India and Russia have very close ties, one needs to remember the Cuban Missile crisis and its effect on the Indo-China war of 1965. Moscow counted on Beijing for support during the crisis and in turn supported China in the 1965 war. All this despite the fact that India and Russian viewed each other as valuable strategic partners.

If India sides with Russia, it risks alienating the US and the West. There is also the possibility of sanctions of all kinds being imposed on India. This would impede India’s progress given that the economy is still recovery from the after-effects of the global pandemic. Furthermore, trade with Russia would also suffer in the long run.

Should India choose to align itself with the US and her allies, the threat of a Moscow-Beijing axis will become a reality. Given that much of India’s military hardware is sourced from Russia, such a path would render India virtually defenseless. After Washington’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan, India cannot rely on the US and its allies to come to her rescue should the need arise.

That being said, India cannot remain silent on such an issue of global importance. Silence will be seen as an acquiescence of Russia’s actions just like in 2014 when India choose to sidestep the issue of Crimea’s annexation. Moscow appreciated the gesture and repaid in kind when New Delhi scrapped Article 370 in Kashmir, stating that it was no-one’s business what India does in her territory.

The best that India can hope for is a diplomatic de-escalation of the situation before it gets out of hand. This would present New Delhi with some room to maneuver and engage in positive diplomacy with the stakeholders. No matter which way it pans out, one can expect new relations to form and old ones’ fracture. Politics certainly makes for strange bedfellows.


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