West can’t cavil at India for doing business with Russia; it has erred too
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Mar , 2022

US President Joe Biden (left) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin; (Photos: AFP)

The Ukraine crisis is destabilising the global system. The West has declared an economic war against Russia. The sanctions punish not only Russia but others too, including India. Oil and commodity prices have shot up, payment channels disrupted, food shortages and inflationary pressures are lurking etc. All this when the post-Covid world was expecting global economic recovery.

Talk of expelling Russia from G 20, WTO, even the UNSC confiscating its gold reserves, denying it access to SDRs etc is sowing the seeds of destruction of the West-built existing international order which until now China and other autocracies were accused of doing. If China was being condemned for weaponising critical supply chains and economic interdependence, the West is weaponising finance and the international system it controls against the adversary of the moment.

India’s position is difficult. Its ties with the US are the strongest ever and will deepen further as convergences grow. With Russia, a traditional partner, the ties are not as broad-based but are of vital importance in some critical areas. Beyond defence, conserving Russia’s stakes in India in the Russia-India-China triangle at a time when Russia-China ties are strategically deepening, and protecting India’s equities in its Central Asian neighbourhood from which it cannot afford to be effectively ousted as a partner, are reasons why India cannot disrupt its Russia ties because of Ukraine related western pressure on it.

India’s abstentions in the UNSC/UNGA on the Ukraine issue are driven by its national interest, just as the votes of the West and others are, as well as an appreciation of the  dynamics leading to the conflict. The Ukrainian conflict is a product of Soviet Union’s collapse, the failure to establish an equitable security architecture in Europe, NATO’s expansion eastwards, the steady deterioration of US-Russia ties and the breakdown of any stabilising dialogue between the two, the partial collapse of US-Russia strategic agreements, accusations against Russia for interfering in US elections, tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, demonisation of Putin, and so on. India, through its UN statements and Modi-Putin talks encourages a peaceful solution through dialogue.

Talk of principles is unconvincing as all sides have violated them when it served their  national interest. As are moral arguments because human rights violations, destruction of infrastructure, civilian casualties, refugee flows have occurred in military interventions by the West too. Invoking democratic solidarity begs the question whether western democracies have stood with us on our sovereignty issues. If Russia’s military invasion is not justified, so are the West’s demands on India to choose sides.

To cavil at India buying some discounted oil from Russia to marginally lighten its massive import bill, and using the rupee-ruble mechanism to sustain its limited trade ($8.1 billion) with Russia is wrong.

To characterise India’s position as “shaky” within the Quad is to treat Quad as an alliance which it is not. Quad’s agenda is confined to the Indo-Pacific and the China challenge, not security issues in the European theatre.

To characterise our position as “unsatisfactory to say the least” is needless hectoring, as the touchstones of our ties with US should be far wider than the “unsurprising” position we have taken on Ukraine. To openly canvas us on our soil to lower our defence dependence on Russia with US helping to make Soviet era arms available to us from other sources lacks diplomatic sensitivity and  seriousness.

A true strategic partnership should be based on mutuality of core security interests. Our abstentions do not threaten the West’s security whereas voting against Russia affects our own security.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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