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Russia-Ukraine War And India’s Balancing Act

For the sixth time, India abstained from voting on a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Is India’s muted response and balancing act on the Russia-Ukraine conflict the right way forward?

By The Probe team
New Update

publive-image Representative Image | Russia Ukraine Conflict | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

During the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, for the sixth time, India abstained from a UNGA resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for lasting peace in the region. While the global community has criticised India for not taking a stand against Russia, back at home, many top experts and journalists feel that perhaps India’s balancing act has strengthened its position.

“If you look at India’s track record, India has always avoided voting against Russia. India wants to show that when things go wrong, you don’t change your friends, and India’s strategic partnership with Russia goes back many years. In fact, in the last year, we have given an impression to the world that we don’t get pressured by the US and the West as many other countries have been,” says Sanjay Kapoor, Editor of Hardnews magazine and Member and till recently office-bearer of Editors Guild of India.

Kapoor adds that while the West criticised India for buying oil from Russia, today, the same nations are beneficiaries of India’s purchases. “There has been a lot of criticism against India for buying oil from Russia. India used to buy very little at the start of the war, but subsequently, they increased it substantially. Now we have learnt that much of the oil we buy from Russia is refined in India and sold to many countries, including the US and the UK. They don’t have a problem with the oil going from Russia to India and India to them. In a way, this has also contributed to stabilising the oil supplies to countries that the crisis of sorts could have strapped,” adds Kapoor.

publive-image A list of countries that voted in favour, against and abstained from the UNGA resolution against Russia | Photo courtesy: @ZelenskyyUa | Twitter

The UNGA motion was backed by 141 countries, with 32 nations, including India and China abstaining from voting and seven, including Russia, voting against it. While New Delhi has always been under pressure from the global community to stand with Ukraine and condemn Russia for its war excesses, foreign policy analyst and writer Mohan Guruswamy says that India’s longstanding position of not intervening in the internal affairs of other countries is a good position for India’s larger strategic interests.

“The Russians mismanaged their military operations. The Russian objective was to prevent Ukraine from falling into Western hands and also to unite the Russian-speaking areas to themselves. But they mishandled it completely. But having said that, why should India vote against Russia? Russia has been a longtime friend. Whenever we needed help, Russia has always been by our side. When we needed a steel plant in 1952, the Americans, Britishers, Germans and Japanese said “no,” but the Russians said they would give it to you. That’s how we got the Bhilai steel plant. When we wanted a jet fighter, the British, French and Americans said “no”, and the Russians gave us the MIG-21. In 1971, Russia saved us from an American attack. Russia has been traditionally our friend, and we can’t get swayed by temporary changes in US geopolitical outlooks,” notes Guruswamy.

Russia Ukraine War India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ruchira Kamboj addresses the UNGA | Photo courtesy: United Nations | YouTube

Explaining India’s stand at the UNGA, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, said: “India’s approach to the Ukraine conflict will continue to be people-centric… Today as the general assembly marks a year of the Ukrainian conflict, it is important that we ask ourselves a few pertinent questions. Are we anywhere near a possible solution acceptable to both sides? Can any process that does not involve either of the two sides ever lead to a credible and meaningful solution? Has the UN system and particularly its principal organ, the UN Security Council based on a 1945 world construct, not been rendered ineffective to address contemporary challenges to global peace and security?”.

Former Indian Ambassador Anil Trigunayat notes that every country’s foreign policy must serve its national interest, and India’s stand has only made its position stronger globally. “India has always been against external interference. You cannot take a particular incident and change your foreign policy. India sees this as a conflict that was created because of historical circumstances and where red lines were breached by both sides. This, of course, does not give Russia the power to do what it has done, but at the same time, Russia and India are friends, and every country’s foreign policy must serve its national interest,” states Trigunayat.

India has traditionally maintained a position of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations, especially when matters related to territorial disputes, political conflicts and human rights violations are concerned. Dr Rajorshi Roy, an Associate Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, states that while India has not taken sides at the UNGA, at the same time, India has not supported Russia. “India believes in dialogue and diplomacy. There was intense pressure earlier where everyone wanted India to take sides, but that kind of pressure is no longer there. At stake is also global strategic security. The Conflict between Russia and Ukraine is no longer a conflict between Russia and Ukraine anymore. This has turned into a conflict between Russia and the West. There could be an inadvertent kinetic collusion between two of the major nuclear powers. We must consider many issues while dealing with this sensitive subject,” adds Roy.

The UNGA so far has passed six resolutions castigating Russia for its war on Ukraine. India has resisted the pressure and continued to abstain during all the votes. Anuradha M Chenoy, who retired as the Dean and Professor at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says India did not fall prey to the agenda of the West. “India has close to 70 years of ties with Russia. The West would want India to go against Russia, but this is not going to help India. Recently, the IMF said that India had contributed 15 per cent to world growth. India’s strategic ties with Russia is also one of the reasons why India could achieve this,” affirms Chenoy.