What India’s position on the Russian-Ukrainian war means for its relations with the EU | Russo-Ukrainian War
It has been nearly two weeks since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine, killing hundreds and displacing more than 2 million.
Besides generating a humanitarian crisis and sending shockwaves around the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine have also put the countries’ foreign policies in the spotlight.
While some countries, like Germany, have completely reoriented their defense and energy policies to rebuke Russia and secure European borders, others like India continue to maintain a relatively restrictive stance towards the old friend of Russia.
But after the Russian invasion hit India closer to home, killing an Indian student in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and hundreds of Indian students still awaiting evacuation, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under pressure to condemn Russia’s actions.
Last week, P Chidambaram, an Indian parliamentarian from the opposition Congress party, tweeted: “The Indian government should stop its verbal balancing act and sternly demand that Russia immediately stop shelling key cities in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Modi held talks with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and called for an immediate end to the violence.
Yet on the world stage, India has so far refrained five times from condemning Russia’s actions at the United Nations and has only reiterated a “commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter , international law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all States”. .
EU-India relations in trouble?
India’s balancing act of placating both Russia and the West in the Ukraine crisis caught the European Union off guard.
According to Indian media last week, the EU envoys together with Ukraine’s envoy to New Delhi met with senior Indian Foreign Ministry officials ahead of a historic vote at the UN General Assembly and urged India to take a tougher stance on the conflict.
French President Emmanuel Macron also held consultations with Modi on the matter. France currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU and a proactive Macron has held regular talks with EU leaders and world leaders to defuse the crisis.
After Macron’s call with Modi, a statement issued by the French Embassy in India said the two leaders agreed to “guarantee unhindered humanitarian access” to Ukraine and coordinate the resolution of the crisis in the country. UN Security Council.
In recent years, India has strengthened its ties with the EU to ward off Chinese threats. At the recent Indo-Pacific Forum, EU Foreign Ministers and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar agreed to deepen security relations by coordinating maritime presence in the Indian Ocean and enhancing cybersecurity .
Garima Mohan, a fellow in the Asia program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that while Europe-India relations have come a long way in recent years, India may have to reassess its position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“European officials working with India are disappointed but certainly understand its position. The official line is that everything is business as usual with India. But for European politicians and audiences unfamiliar with Indian foreign policy, it will be a tough sell,” she told Al Jazeera.
“It is important to note that India’s position is changing and as the crisis gathers momentum, India will need to reassess its response,” she said.
Anil Trigunayat, India’s former ambassador to EU member Malta, shared a similar view.
“The EU understands India’s position and its strategic autonomy. India’s position in the Indo-Pacific is critical,” he told Al Jazeera.
“However, the Sino-Russian proximity may have certain implications for India.”
“Special relationship with Russia”
Moscow appreciated New Delhi’s cautious stance on the Ukraine crisis, with India not on a list of ‘hostile countries’ compiled by the Kremlin following a series of sanctions imposed by the EU, US and the UK.
However, India’s position towards Russia on the war in Ukraine is not new. Even in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, India maintained its neutrality at the UN.
Michael Kugelman, senior fellow for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, says India’s position is a consequence of its special relationship with Russia.
“New Delhi has long viewed Moscow as its most reliable and trustworthy partner, a perception shaped by decades of friendship, dating back to the early years of the Cold War,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Indian leaders often speak of Russia as the closest and most reliable friend of India, a country that has never had a crisis with India. And they see it as a country ever ready to help India on the world stage, including at the UN, where Russia’s voting habits on issues like Kashmir have backed India.
Russia, India’s main strategic partner, exported weapons worth $6.6 billion between 2016 and 2020 to the South Asian nation. However, India-Russia bilateral trade at $8.1 billion between April 2020 and March 2021 is not as high as India-EU trade, which stood at €62.8 billion (€68.5 billion) over the same period.
According to Kugelman, India’s Cold War nostalgia for Russia continues to weigh on their relationship. “It comes down to a simple math: Russia supports us and we will support it as well,” he said.
Vivek Mishra, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi, says India’s diplomatic stance on Ukraine could be beneficial and there has been a ‘gradual maturity’ in strategic autonomy from India.
“India’s foreign policy has moved from non-alignment to embracing strategic autonomy in defense and security policies. This crisis has shown exactly that with India discussing the crisis with the EU and the US, refraining from taking a position on the conflict at the UN and speaking to both Russia and Ukraine. Mishra told Al Jazeera.
The Chinese Question
The question is: if China intervenes in the Ukraine crisis, will India support the West?
So far, China, like its rival India, has also played a balancing act between Russia and the West.
In a statement released last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told senior European officials that while Beijing respects a country’s sovereignty, including that of Ukraine, Russia’s security demands must also be handled properly.
However, China’s growing proximity to Russia in recent years is something India is watching closely, according to ORF’s Mishra.
“Putin going to the Beijing Olympics and meeting China’s Xi Jinping made India suspicious of Sino-Russian relations,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Even if China weighs more than it already has on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, India would continue to maintain its neutral position. China is an imminent threat to India, so India will not want pleasing Russia in a way that would threaten its national interests,” he added.
Kugelman thinks that if anything were to make India change its position, it would be the course of events, not the decisions of other countries.
“EU pressure is unlikely to influence India’s foreign policy. The essence of India’s cherished principle of strategic autonomy is that it will not bow to great power pressure to take a particular position or to align itself with a particular side,” he said. at Al Jazeera.
Kugelman said India makes foreign policy decisions “on its own terms” and there is little other countries, including its closest partners, can do to change that.
“But if Putin expands his invasion into NATO territory, all bets would be off and by then India would probably have no choice but to come out and condemn what would effectively be a new world war.”