Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | 6 months of Russia-Ukraine war: Has India shifted its stand?

In this episode of Worldview, we look at the ongoing war in Ukraine, nearly 200 days since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered strikes on the country. What is the situation on the ground, and has the ground shifted in Indian diplomacy at all?

September 02, 2022 08:30 pm | Updated 08:30 pm IST

6 months later- the war in Ukraine continues, and as global polarisation between the US-EU western coalition and the Russia-China led combine grows, diplomats fight it out in Delhi. Has the Modi government shifted India’s stand?

First- on the ground in Ukraine:

1. According to the UN Office of the High Commission of Refugees, at least 5,500 civilians have been killed, and about 8,000 injured. On military casualties, it is much harder: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and advisors have said between 100-200 Ukrainian soldiers are killed everyday, and 10,000 were dead by June, estimating the total count at about double that by September. Russia’s official count of soldiers killed is 1,351, a figure they put out in March and haven’t updated, NATO estimates are more than 10 times that, and Ukraine has put the figure at 43,000.

2. The UNHCR says that by now about 7 million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded in various European countries, another 6.6 million are internally displaced in Ukraine, and about 13 million civilians are stranded in areas affected by the war and daily violence.

3. In terms of territory, Russia now occupies or controls about 20% of Ukrainian territory, but is facing a fight from Ukrainian forces in many parts, who have been bolstered by weapons from the West. However, if the original Putin plan was to wrap up the war in a few weeks, the fighting in Ukraine has gone well beyond that, and it is still unclear at present.

4. Despite a number of UN resolutions, US and EU sanctions, the war has not been abated, and is leading to more and more consequences outside Ukraine too- with food and energy shortages, inflation hitting many countries.

In all of this, some suggested that India’s position on Ukraine, where it has not yet criticised Russia’s actions, may have undergone a change, pointing to a few indicators this week:

1. India voted against Russia at the UNSC on August 24, it was a procedural vote on whether to allow Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to address the council by video rather than in person. Russia opposed this, China abstained. This was the first time India has voted in this way.

2. India also announced a 12 th consignment of aid had reached Ukraine, and urged for more room for diplomacy to end the war during that discussion.

3. The Ministry of External Affairs allowed a war of words to break out between diplomats based in Delhi, as the German and Polish Ambassadors held press conferences to hit out at Russia.

4.India hosted a senior US treasury official on a visit to Mumbai and Delhi where he discussed the coalition to put a price cap on Russian oil, which the US wants India to join.

5.Next week, New Delhi will host a Quad officials meeting, with senior officials from US, Australia and Japan to discuss Indo-Pacific initiatives. Remember, India is the only member of the Quad not join sanctions against Russia. While the focus of the meeting will be on China, and Taiwan, but this will be the first such meeting held in Delhi since the war in Ukraine began, and comments by the other participants on Russia are likely to be on the agenda.

Do these indicators mark an inflexion point, or are they just more evidence on how India continues to balance, but doesn’t change its position on Russia?

1. On the UNSC vote, for example, even though it was welcomed by the US and Germany, the MEA explained at some length that this was a procedural vote, not a precedent, and that Mr. Zelenskyy had addressed the UNSC via video in the past as well.

2. India’s aid to Ukraine was preceded by a call between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Ukrainian FM Kuleba, but these links have been few and far between, compared with Mr. Jaishankar’s meetings and calls with his Russian counterpart. NSA Doval has visited Moscow, and so have other ministers, but no minister has travelled to Ukraine since the war. PM Modi has spoken to Russian President Putin on a number of occasions but has not spoken to President Zelenskyy since the evacuation of Indian students in early March was completed....leading Mr. Kuleba to say at a press conference that he was disappointed about the lack of support from India-China

3. India’s stand on the sanctions hasn’t changed a bit, it doesn’t follow sanctions on oil, defence purchases from Russia as well using rupee-rouble payment mechanisms that subvert sanctions. India’s oil imports from Russia tell their own story, from a minor buyer of Russian oil, India is now the second biggest buyer along with China. Russia is now India’s second biggest supplier of oil, and makes up about 18.8% of India’s purchases, a far cry from the 1-2% Mr. Jaishankar spoke of in February. Finally, Russian Rosneft-owned Nayara Energy’s refinery in Vadinar, Gujarat is one of the two biggest importers of oil, and is selling its refined products worldwide. And India retains $16 billion in investments in Rosneft and Russian oil fields. As a result India-Russia trade volume in these six months alone have surpassed all of last year, according to Russian Ambassador Alipov, who said the the volume of trade in national currencies amounted to over 40%.

4. This month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to Uzbekistan for the SCO summit- where he will meet Russian President Putin, and possibly Chinese President Xi Jinping- also leaders of Central Asia, Pakistan, Iran, Belarus.... India is being counted in the presence of this entire list of leaders that the West Has a problem with.

5. India’s stand at the United Nations, in terms of criticising Russia’s actions has not changed, despite many countries making the case that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is akin to China’s land grab at the LAC, and in the South China sea, and so India should be concerned.

6. Neither has it changed militarily, except to accomodate Russia’s delivery delays due to the war in Ukraine. Moreover this week, the Indian Army took part in the Vostok military exercises held in Russia- a move the US protested, and the MEA defended. More in WV in April on Why India won’t Budge on Russia- 10 reasons.

In short, India’s position on the war in Ukraine, six months on, has not changed materially, and although the government says it is committed to being, neutral and non-aligned, while it calls for diplomacy, New Delhi-Moscow relations remain strong. By charting this course, and given its growing commitment to the west in the Indo-Pacific, India is possibly essaying a new chapter in multi-alignment.

READING RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. Invasion: The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival by Luke Harding, journalist who has covered many conflicts

2. Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin and Russia’s War Against Ukraine by Owen Matthews, author of Stalin’s Children and Impeccable Spy

3. Putin- by Phillip Short- very well reviewed, as a book with balance, and deep research into Putin’s background

4. The Russia Conundrum: How the West Fell for Putin’s Power Gambit--and How to Fix It- by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russian exiled businessman and opposition leader- out in October this year

5. Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest- Angela Stent

6. Arsenal of Autocracy: Russia and China’s Military Strategy in a Multipolar World by Germany based academic Alexandr Burilkov

7. After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World by Dilip Hiro

8. A Pipeline Runs Through It: The Story of Oil from Ancient Times to the First World War by Keith Fisher- includes historic context for the pipelines since Peter the Great.

9.Ukraine and Russia- from Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War by Paul D’Anieri

10.The War in Ukraine’s Donbas: Origins, Contexts, and the Future by David Marples, Canadian scholar

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