By Professor Tridivesh Singh Maini
This article examines how India’s stance vis-à-vis Russia, on the Ukraine crisis has been different from other Quad members. While the US has not publicly criticised India it remains to be seen as to how New Delhi’s decision to not criticise Russia and purchase oil will impact the New Delhi-Washington relationship, at least in the short run. India’s stance also reiterates the point that there may be convergence between members of the Quad, especially the threat posed by China. At the same time, there are likely to be differences given the fact that even though New Delhi-Moscow ties have been strained in recent years, there still are a number of binding factors.
US reactions to India’s stand on the Ukraine crisis
US President, Joe Biden while commenting on the success of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad (consisting of US, Japan, Australia and India) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in dealing with the Russia-Ukraine war also referred to India’s stand. Said Biden:
“The Quad is, with the possible exception of India being somewhat shaky on some of this, but Japan has been extremely strong — so has Australia — in terms of dealing with Putin’s aggression.”
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, while speaking on India’s stance on the Ukraine issue in a media interview, said that while it understood India’s compulsions it was important for democracies to work together and for India to bear in mind the changing geopolitical landscape (referring to India’s growing proximity with the US and EU) and the serious human rights violations by Russia in Ukraine.
India abstains from voting in favour of a US-sponsored resolution
India had abstained from voting in favour of a US- sponsored United Nations General Assembly UNGA resolution which criticised Russia for its aggression vis-à-vis Ukraine (India also abstained from a procedural vote in the UNSC for holding an emergency UNGA session with regard to the Ukraine crisis). New Delhi’s stand with regard to the UNGA resolution has been appreciated by Moscow, while Ukraine has expressed its disappointment.
To fulfil its oil needs, India has also decided to buy oil from Russia, with the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) having signed an agreement with a Russian oil company for importing 3 million barrels of crude oil. While the US said that India would not be liable for any sanctions, it did say that each country should decide which side it wanted to be when history books were written. India on its part has said that this deal with Russia should not be looked at from a political lens, and that oil imports from Russia account for less than 1% (an estimated 0.02%) of its total oil requirements while oil imports from the US have been steadily rising and are likely to increase further.
Japan PM’s India visit and approach vis-à-vis Ukraine crisis
If one were to examine the Japanese PM Fumio Kishida’s visit, in connection with the India-Japan Summit, both India and Japan (an important member of Quad) did sign a number of agreements in areas including energy (others included a memorandum of Cooperation on cybersecurity, a Memorandum on Sustainable Urban Development and an agreement on decentralised wastewater management). Japan committed to investing 5 trillion Yen (Rs.3.2 Lakh Crore over a period of five years) while both sides also finalised loans, from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA, the overseas development of the Japanese government, of around Rs.20,000 crore for a number of projects.
A joint statement issued by both sides expressed concern at the events in Ukraine, referring to the grave humanitarian implications and the need to find a solution through dialogue. But what was clearly evident was that the Japanese PM was far more critical of Russia’s aggression vis-à-vis Ukraine saying that it had ‘shaken the roots of international order’. Indian PM, Narendra Modi while calling for a solution through dialogue refrained from any criticism of Russia.
India’s stand on Russia has been defended by many commentators arguing that India has only stuck to its policy of neutrality, and it could not have ignored its historical linkages as well as strong defence relationship with Russia. India’s decision to remain neutral has also received support from not just supporters of the government, but even many critics including sympathisers and members of the left parties.
Others have said that India should have been more critical of Russia for initiating aggression vis-à-vis Ukraine. Two Congress leaders (Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari) while speaking in an individual capacity, said that India should have criticised Russia’s aggression. Those critical of India’s stand have also pointed to the fact, that Moscow has grown closer to Pakistan in recent years (Imran Khan landed in Russia a day before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine). Interestingly, Pakistan PM Imran Khan had praised India’s stand on the Ukraine issue and for going ahead with the import of oil from Russia in spite of American sanctions. Many also argued, that even though India has remained neutral and not spoken against Russia, it could not expect support from Russia against China.
Biden’s remarks with regard to India’s stance on the Ukraine crisis, come a day after the Chinese Diplomat said that the Indo-Pacific Strategy was as dangerous as NATO. Said China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng while speaking at a security dialogue organised by Tsinghua University said:
“If allowed to go on unchecked, it would bring unimaginable consequences, and ultimately push the Asia-Pacific over the edge of an abyss,”
The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister said instead of being embroiled in that countries in Asia should instead explore regional integration.In conclusion, while absolute convergence on issues is impossible, it remains to be seen how India’s stance on the Ukraine crisis and its decision to purchase oil from Russia will impact ties with Russia and the overall direction of the Quad. The recent crisis and India’s stand also underscores the point that dealing with China’s aggressive designs is an important binding factor for Quad, but this does not mean that there will be no difference on important issues.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is Assistant Professor, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana.
Image credits – The Indian Express