Modi-Zelensky Meeting at G7
May 27, 2023 | Expert Insights
The war between Russia and Ukraine has been going on now for more than a year.
This has been a devastating war in all respects. The main devastation has been brought on Ukraine by Russia. But the rest of the world has also been severely affected. Global food and energy prices have skyrocketed. This has led to a cost-of-living crisis. The harshest impact of this crisis has been felt in the world’s poorest countries.
When the Russia-Ukraine war began the collective West was caught completely wrong footed and did not have any contingency measures in place.
Slowly the Western countries started to pick up their slack. Initially a small window was left open for dialogue with Moscow. But this evaporated quickly. Instead, the West decided to go all out in its bid to counter Russia’s invasion. The United States has obviously played the leading role in this regard. Very soon the European countries through the EU framework also started to chip in.
A twin pronged strategy has been followed against Russia. There are two components to this strategy. These are military and economic. The military aspect is of course more important in this ongoing war. However initially Ukraine’s Western allies were reluctant to supply it with any hi-tech weapons systems. Rather they were happy supplying basic arms like shells and rifles. This quickly proved to be untenable as the war started to escalate. So, the West had to also up its ante in this game. It began with tanks, continued with mobile missile launchers and has finally ended with fighter jets. Despite this the delivery of military aid has been slow in coming.
One of the fears of the Western powers has been the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war into a direct conflict between Russia and the United States. This fear has abated a little bit after Russia suffered military reverses in the battlefield. But the possibility remains. Moscow has laid down a clear red line that any direct attack on Russian territory would lead to superpower confrontation. Washington has duly taken note of this. It has laid it down for Ukraine that if it tries to launch attacks within Russian territory then the West will not back. It looks like that Kyiv is already disregarding this instruction by supporting anti-Putin separatists within Russia. Ukraine is also using up the arms supplied to it at an enormously fast rate. This is putting immense pressure on the weapons industry in the West.
The economic aspect of the Western strategy against Russia was dependent on the premise that the Russian economy is inherently economy. Russia’s economy is mainly based on the export of oil and natural gas. Most of this export went to Europe. So, the premise went that if Russia is completely cut off from the European market, then the Russian economy would collapse. This has spectacularly backfired. The Russian economy has not collapsed. Instead, the Western economies are facing a serious cost of living crisis. Russia continues to sell its oil at discount to countries in the Global South. India is one of these countries.
India’s policy on this war has been mostly consistent right from the beginning. India does not have any bones to pick in this conflict. It seeks an end to this war based on mutual understanding. For this, direct talks need to take place between the two sides. This has not yet happened. New Delhi has also offered the services of its good offices to initiate such talks. Neither side has picked up on this offer. At the start of this war the Indian government was concerned about the safety of its student population in Ukraine. For this purpose, New Delhi coordinated closely with both Kyiv and Moscow to bring back its people safely. Direct criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not come from India. It has mostly abstained at the United Nations General Assembly when asked to vote on this war. This has been one of the bones of contention between India and the West. The West wants India to openly back it against Russia.
India’s policy on the Russia-Ukraine war has received its fair share of criticism. But it has mostly worked. Today India is in the unique situation in that both sides are courting it. There are not many countries in the world which can act as a bridge between Russia and the West. India is one of them. Each side know that New Delhi has no interest in this conflict other than the establishment of peace. Currently Russia and the Western powers are not talking to each other directly. Kyiv is also not interested in any direct dialogue with Moscow. In such a situation the possibility of mutual misunderstanding increases. So, India’s role becomes all the more important. Russian and US officials have met face to face in India. Prime Minister Modi has already expressed his concerns about this war to President Putin face to face. Now he has met with President Zelensky personally.
The West’s criticism of India’s position vis-à-vis Russia is not justified. New Delhi has long historic relations with Moscow. This goes back to the time of the Cold War. At that time Pakistan was the West’s stalwart ally in the fight against international communism. During this period Western countries implicitly supported Islamabad against New Delhi in the three Indo-Pakistani wars. In response India had no other option but to turn to the erstwhile USSR for help. And the Soviet Union was more than willing to help India. It was one of the few non-communist partners that Moscow had at the time. This was a strategic trump card for the Soviets. They supported India’s stance of non-alignment in the international sphere. Soviet arms assistance to New Delhi increased exponentially. This was at the same time that the West had a virtual arms embargo on India. The USSR’s vote in the Security Council proved crucial for India when resolutions on Kashmir were passed in the Council. In return India also supported Moscow’s position in the UN when it faced attacks from the West. So, this was a mutually beneficial relationship in which neither side crossed path with the other.
This relationship continued even after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed.
It is only now that the United States is trying to replace Russia as the premier strategic partner of India.
But this will not be so easy. It will take a lot of effort to completely decouple Russia from India. The Indian defence industry is still locked in to its Russian supplier. The West continues to place high barriers in its defence dealings with New Delhi. As long as this does not change India will have little incentive to totally move away from Russia.
Another major consideration which India has in mind in its dealings with Russia is China. The Chinese are a clear and present danger for India. Intensity of border clashes between the two countries has increased over time.
At such a critical moment India cannot give up on its Russian friend. Of course, Moscow has moved closer to Beijing since it invaded Ukraine. But if tomorrow China invades India there is no guarantee that the West will come to India’s assistance. This is despite the fact that India is being built up as an alternative pole to China. Most likely in case of a Chinese invasion of India the West will call for dialogue. This will result in loss of Indian territory which is unacceptable to New Delhi.
India has little direct leverage over Russia that it can use right now. It needs cheap Russian oil as much as Russia needs the Indian market for the moment. At the same time, it does not want to lose Russia to China. So, if this conflict ends peacefully, it will be beneficial for India. then New Delhi will not have to make the stark choice of either abandoning Russia or appearing to side with Russia in this war. Instead, Indo-Russian relations can return to the normal levels that they were in before this war erupted.
The Indian government has tried to maintain a scrupulous policy of equidistance from both sides throughout this conflict. It has been a key supplier of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. It has the goodwill and trust of both sides. If India can play a part in the reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine then it will be a big boost for its diplomacy. This will show that India is a responsible international power which seeks to maintain the global order. Russian dependence on China will reduce. And India might even gain a new friend in the form of Ukraine.
- Right now, there is no sign of any dialogue taking place between Moscow and Kyiv.
- India can come into the picture only after the two sides are willing to talk to each other.
- Both the West and Russia are looking towards India to make a contribution to end this conflict.
- India can also play a big role after this war ends in the economic reconstruction of Ukraine.