In the middle: On India’s role in Russia-Ukraine crisis

On the Ukraine war India must fulfill its responsibilities as a non-aligned democracy

Updated - April 06, 2022 10:02 am IST

Published - April 06, 2022 12:05 am IST

Forty days into the war in Ukraine, India’s role appears to be more relevant than other countries may have expected, evident from the stream of dignitaries from overseas over the past two weeks. Most were from countries that are a part of the U.S. and EU-led sanctions regime against Russia. Their messages were three-pronged: asking India to change its vote at the UN, where it has abstained from all resolutions critical of Russia’s invasion; to request that India not “accelerate” its purchases of Russian oil being offered at discount; and to discourage India from using the rupee-rouble national currency-based payment mechanisms that could subvert “backfilling sanctions”. The messages got sharper and more public as it became clear that New Delhi would also host Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and officials from the West hoped to turn India’s position to their side. However, the red carpet welcome he received, including a cordial meeting with the Prime Minister, appeared to make it clear that New Delhi is not amenable to the pressure. The External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, and the Finance Minister also reinforced the position of the Indian “national interest”, given that European countries have yet to curtail oil intakes from Russia. It is likely that the U.S. will make another attempt to veer the Government off its chosen course when Mr. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visit Washington for the “2+2” meetings, where a possible waiver of CAATSA sanctions against India for the purchase of the Russian S-400 systems will also be discussed. The U.S. is also keen to squeeze Russia on the multilateral stage, with proposals to exclude it from the G-20 summit this year, and suspend it from the Human Rights Council.

While the Government cannot be faulted for its refusal to bow to external pressure, it must consider the importance of remaining flexible on what its stand both at the UN and in bilateral conversations is going to be, given the ground situation in Ukraine. Reports of gross human rights violations blamed on the Russian army could change the complexion of the war, and India’s call for an independent inquiry into the allegations is an important intervention. In addition, the U.S. and the EU are likely to tighten economic sanctions, as the current restrictions have not made Russia reconsider its course. With Russia unlikely to relinquish areas of Eastern Ukraine, and its western rivals not likely to let up their counter-measures, New Delhi must realise that its value to the two sides will last while it remains uncommitted to either side. This will require having a keen eye on rapid developments in the theatre of war, an ear on what partners on both sides plan next, and the ability to keep its mind open on where India’s responsibilities, as a global democracy, and a truly non-aligned power, lie.

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