India’s stand on the Ukraine war is tragic

At a funeral service, in Ukraine

At a funeral service, in Ukraine | Photo Credit: Getty Images

It is just under a month since Russia declared a unilaterally-waged war on Ukraine on land and by air. What the world has witnessed is the unbridled destruction of a democratic nation, Ukraine, by a heavily armed, nuclear weapons power and veto-holding Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, viz., Russia.

This UN status was obtained by Russia as an uncontested residual legatee of the Soviet Union of which Russia and Ukraine were large parts; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) unravelled into 15 nations in 1988-91 — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Much resistance

The Ukrainians are resisting the Russian advance to capture the capital, Kyiv, by demonstrating sheer nationalism and courage, and with welcome support of the developed western nations.

Despite this status today, Russia is not near its announced goal of conquering a largely unarmed Ukraine.

What must be painful to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is that his military, despite the carpet bombing and disruption of civil facilities and over four weeks of battering Ukraine and causing widespread destruction, has not managed to capture any major city in Ukraine. Such is the valiant fighting spirit of the people of Ukraine.

The bare fact is that Ukraine, a recognised nation and United Nations member-state, has been invaded by a Permanent Member of the apex Security Council, violating the UN Charter. India cannot crawl for the goodwill of Russia. But at the very least, India must condemn Russia for its aggression and illegal invasion.

Mr. Putin’s constant refrain, that he wants the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine and that the Ukrainians are pro-Nazi, is incredible since Ukraine embraced Nazi Germany in the 1940s to escape the genocide in Ukraine carried out by Joseph Stalin’s Russia during the decade of 1930-40. Moreover, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a Jew and his father suffered much during Hitler’s occupation of Ukraine.

The ICJ’s wrap

Another blow to the prestige of Russia has come from the International Court of Justice. After hearings held recently, the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) directed Russia to halt the war immediately, stating that the ICJ “is profoundly concerned by Moscow’s use of force in violation of international law”. The ICJ judges voted 13-2 in favour of the ruling.

The Indian judge on the ICJ and a former Supreme Court of India judge, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, also voted against Russia despite the Narendra Modi government’s votes of abstention on other international forums on the same issue. The Ministry of External Affairs promptly disowned Justice Bhandari’s vote, with a spokesperson saying that judges at the ICJ “vote in their individual capacity”. This is silly! A judge cannot be a representative of a government when sitting in court.

A damaging stance

The most deplorable examples of human rights atrocities in the 21st century — which is being carried out by the Russian military — have also exposed the UN and the Security Council for their ineffectiveness. Obviously, the UN needs a restructuring after its past of almost 80 years of existence — and one of mostly helplessness.

What is more tragic today is India’s stand. India, despite its large geographical size and population, has refused to criticise, leave alone denounce, Russia’s 19th century type of warfare in Ukraine, especially since the Russian military is disrupting civil society and killing the innocent.

Explained | Not taking sides: On India and the Ukraine conflict

Combined with its abstention votes at the UN, India, by its reticence to take a stand for democracy, has not only affected its relations with the democratic nations of the West but also caused consternation among its Quad partners (i.e., the United States, Australia and Japan).

India has become vulnerable to a possible massive military adventure by China and risks isolation by traditionally democratic nations, and their help and their support.

The non-democratic nations, besides Russia, such as China, North Korea and Venezuela, are either already hostile towrds India for other reasons, or are unlikely to stand with India on other international issues of (India’s) public concern.

Part of the problem for India arises from the attempt to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds in foreign policy. Thus, the flip flops on Afghanistan, Nepal, BRICS, the Quad, Iran, and now on the Ukraine war launched by Russia, have devalued India’s reputation to levels well below its ‘military strike hard power’ and ‘huge population soft power’.

The BRICS resolution

As already brought out by this writer in an article in this daily, titled “Ukraine’s situation, India’s national interest”, in the BRICS meet in 2021 in New Delhi with leaders of five nations present, viz., India, China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil, India had moved a resolution that was passed unanimously in its New Delhi Declaration (paragraph 22 in the XIII BRICS Summit, September 9, 2021). The core demand in this resolution was that the five BRICS nations were opposed to the unilateral use of force against any state, wanted all disputes resolved by peaceful means, and categorically ruled out the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. But India remained unflappable despite the political hypocrisy of Russia and China.

Another blatant violation of an agreement between Russia and Ukraine has been brought out in The Hindu, February 27, 2022, in an explainer, “When and how did Ukraine give up its nuclear arsenal?”. When Ukraine won its independence from the then unravelling USSR in 1991, it had the world’s third largest stock of nuclear weapons. Statistics made public showed that Ukraine had about 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads, 176 ICBMs, and 44 long distance strategic bombers.

In 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum with Russia, the U.S., and the United Kingdom. According to the Memorandum, these three veto-holding permanent members of the UNSC agreed to respect the “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and existing borders of Ukraine”. But Russia has now welched on this treaty commitment since March 2014 when it annexed a part of Ukraine, viz., Crimea.

If India has to play a role in international affairs, leave alone hopes of being a Vishwa Guru, the Narendra Modi government at the very least has a moral duty of restoring India’s international credibility; it must raise this Hitler-like tearing up of written agreements, not to mention the disregard for the 2021 BRICS Resolution, by Russia directly and China indirectly of an India-proposed resolution.

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Ukraine crisis: can India keep walking the balance?

In fact, India’s reputation on this issue is now being seen very adversely, internationally. The Prime Minister’s much touted labels pinned on him by his admirers in India have dimmed.

In the context of the U.S. President, Joe Biden, calling Mr. Putin a war criminal, India is ending up looking pitiable as if the Government is under some extra-political compulsions. The Indian nation, however, needs to know the truth.

Subramanian Swamy, a PhD in Economics from Harvard, has been in Parliament for six terms. He was also a Union Cabinet Minister of Commerce and Law & Justice

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Printable version | Mar 23, 2022 5:35:28 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/indias-stand-on-the-ukraine-war-is-tragic/article65243820.ece