India’s abstention from the Security Council vote on Ukraine is widely read as a play to balance ties with Moscow and Washington and engaging “both sides of the fence”, rather than of being a “fence-sitter”.
The vote was a procedural one on whether to discuss the situation in Eastern Europe, where Moscow accuses NATO of attempting to expand its membership, and the U.S. and other NATO countries accuse Russia of amassing troops to invade Ukraine. Russia lost the vote, winning support only from China, while managing abstentions only from India, Gabon and Kenya.
India’s abstention came hours after consultations with Russian Deputy FM Sergey Vershinin in Delhi, where he held scheduled talks on U.N. coordination.
In comments released by the Russian Embassy, Mr. Vershinin said he had informed “Indian friends” Moscow’s view on “Ukraine and on the tensions fanned by the Western nations, NATO and the United States, ” and the need to “ensure strategic stability in the area”. In New York, Russia’s U.N. envoy praised India, along with the other abstainers for resisting “hand-twisting” by the U.S.
Western diplomats didn’t comment on India’s stand. Some have, however, pointed to the complete consonance between Moscow and Beijing to ask how India can be seen on the same side as China, given PLA aggressions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“The current security situation in Eastern Europe unfortunately follows a pattern of precedents with Russian Federation being the destabilising actor in the region,” Poland’s Ambassador Adam Burakowski told The Hindu when asked about the need for the UNSC vote, but declined to comment on India’s abstention.
“Unfortunately, this may have a global impact and contribute to the deterioration of international security as there are other revisionist powers which may follow suit, not to mention possible humanitarian crisis,” he said.
The abstention and the emphasis of envoy to the U.N. T.S. Tirumurti on the “legitimate security interests of all countries” is seen as a repeat of 2014, when in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, India had abstained from a resolution backed by Ukraine, the U.S. and the E.U. that sought to criticise Russia’s actions in a vote at the General Assembly in March, 2014. The then National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon had also said there were “legitimate Russian and other interests involved” in Crimea and called for a diplomatic resolution.
India’s vote is then explained by a number of reasons including a desire to maintain its strong ties with Moscow, but at the same time, not giving Washington, that won the vote, cause to complain. The Biden administration is in the process of making a decision on whether to bring sanctions under its CAATSA law against India for its purchase of the S-400 Russian missile systems or to process a waiver for India given the close India-U.S. defence ties.
“We have not made a determination on a potential waiver with respect to Indian arms transactions with Russia.CAATSA does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said on Tuesday, underlining America’s oft-repeated position thus far.
While concerned about the tensions, New Delhi is also not seeing a significant escalation in hostilities at present and feels a peaceful end to the crisis would obviate any need to pick a side.
“New Delhi would not want to distance itself from one strategic partner under pressure from the other, as these partners could tomorrow resolve the issue between them, and where would that leave India’s position?” former National Security Advisory Board Chairman P.S. Raghavan explained, when asked about the vote.
Apart from keeping in touch “with all sides”, as the Indian envoy said at the U.N., South Block is most closely watching the 4-nation “Normandy Format” talks among Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, held in Paris on January 26 that ended with all countries agreeing to uphold the 2014 ceasefire, and are due to meet again in Berlin next Wednesday.