A testing vote: On India’s UNSC stand on Ukraine

India had good reasons to abstain, but might have to revisit its stance if the conflict worsens

February 28, 2022 12:20 am | Updated 08:51 am IST

Thwarted at the UN Security Council in their resolution to condemn Russian aggression on Ukraine, the U.S. and European allies now plan to ensure a censure of Moscow’s actions at the UN General Assembly, where they already have the support of more than 80 countries. The Russian veto of resolution 8979 was a predetermined outcome: as a permanent UNSC member, Russia has vetoed UNSC resolutions earlier that were critical of its decision to send troops into Georgia (2008), and Crimea (2014), and could hardly have done otherwise. What was perhaps more disappointing for the western coalition was that it was unable to move India from its consistent position of abstention. China shifted from its support for Russia in the previous vote to abstention after the U.S. and Albania, the two “penholders” of the resolution, agreed to drop the reference to Chapter VII (the authorisation of the use of force against Russian troops). The coalition against Russia is making a political statement at the UN, but not setting much store on the global body’s effectiveness. Instead, the U.S. and the EU have adopted unilateral sanctions which they hope will cripple Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to sustain a longer assault on Ukraine, and also excised the Russian economy from the international SWIFT transaction system. In addition, the U.S., Germany and other countries have announced weapon supplies for Ukrainian forces. However, in the absence of direct air power assistance and foreign troops, it is unlikely that Ukraine will be able to change the balance of power in the equation with Russia easily.

India’s abstention from the UNSC resolution too was perhaps a foregone conclusion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to take a call from Mr. Putin before the vote indicated that India would not take any stand against Russia. Apart from the India-Russia defence and strategic partnership, Russia is India’s most trusted P-5 ally when it comes to blocking intrusive resolutions on Kashmir. In contrast, Mr. Modi only accepted the call from the Ukrainian President after the vote, and rather than offering support, requested assistance for the safe exit of Indian students. While India’s hesitation to take a stand against Russia is understood, New Delhi must now consider whether its aspirations to be a “leading power” can be achieved without having a clear position on a conflict that threatens global security, even as the Modi government focuses solely on the well-being of Indians amidst the peril faced by others. This will be especially true if the Russian military operation in Ukraine is prolonged, and the Government’s ambivalence is read as active support for aggressive transgressions by a more powerful neighbour over a weaker one, something India has protested in its own neighbourhood.

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