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Human Cost Should Deter War!

India’s independent approach to Russian invasion on Ukraine balances its relations with NATO, European partners

Amrit Pal Kaur / New Delhi

Critics from either side of foreign policy matrix may have issues with India charting an independent and balanced course on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as against NATO allies and European Union opposition to this intrusion.

Pro-NATO and European think tanks have made out that India missed the bus in playing a decisive role in world affairs yet again by keeping off the conflict mostly unconcerned and untouched.


Soviet era Russia’s backers have hailed India’s ‘sensible’ decision not to go whole hog with NATO alliance given her varied offensive and defensive interests.

But then, Modi government hardly had many options in changing course of events leading to military aggression on Ukraine by Russia while both NATO and European Union went ahead with severely sanctioning Moscow.

China that subtly supported Russian invasion chose to talk of winding down the violence though the two countries communist leadership has been led by oligarchs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s telephonic conversation with President Vladimir Putin is a milestone in long chain of events that led the present invasion.

India’s appeals for peace and getting back to diplomatic dialogue on outstanding issues relating to Ukraine cannot be ignored by the world community.

Russia’s ‘military operation’ in Ukraine has virtually sealed the possibility of rapprochement with Europe that continued to hang in balance during last 30 years.  

India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar rightly mapped the genesis of Ukrainian issue that emanates from complexities of ‘Post Soviet Politics, expansion of NATO and relationship between Russia and Europe.’

In last three decades, Russia concluded numerous arms-reduction treaties with Western countries including 1997 Russia-NATO Act, Budapest Memorandum, Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (1990), Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987) and Open Skies Treaty that put an end to cold war in Europe and opened avenues for cooperation between Russia and Europe.


Some genuinely believe that Russia did not reap benefit of the cooperation with Europe. Breaking point perhaps was granting NATO membership to Ukraine that brings Europe’s sphere of influence to Russia’s doorstep.

President Putin’s statement that Russia wants demilitarization of Ukraine and it ‘does not intend to occupy’ the country implies that the conflict goes beyond their bilateral relations and points to involvement of greater Western powers.

In this larger struggle for supremacy, one country which has been asked to pick sides is India. As an emerging market economy, credible and substantial international power, India has largely seen herself as a stabilizing factor that pushes seriously for peace and prosperity.

Such is the case especially after India became an equivalent member of QUAD after shunning ‘hesitations of history’ that defined non-alignment. Indian position has come into greater focus due to its close relations with Russia, USA and European Union.

Its membership and current chairmanship at UNSC has only accentuated India’s stake given that she been a longtime votary of independent foreign policy and pluri-lateral world order.

Since India has had close civilizational links with both sides, it’s pragmatic and logical to abstain from voting on Ukraine issue at UNSC. India’s representative at UN Tirumurti spelt out India’s stand and asked countries to find peaceful, diplomatic solution through Minsk mechanism.

It’s rather impractical to expect India to severe its relations with Russia that has been her single largest defense partner with 60 per cent share in defense inventory. On the other hand, India has also nursed progressive relations with US as well as Europe for over 20 years, since Vajpayee-Clinton era.

India as a fast-developing country has its own pressing needs with over 1.4 billion to feed and enable spread of prosperity. Therefore, expectations on either side for India to align may not fit into the New Delhi’s scheme of things.

Her compulsions to lift a vast majority out of poverty and put herself on growth mode are what drive India’s foreign policy. In fact, these very imperatives pushed India’s position striking a fine line between Russia and West at large.

Instability on eastern flank of Europe brings home the acute need to develop in house inventory of defense mechanisms and systems without depending on imports. Self-reliance is the key to great power status. ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defense sector is a significant component of the policy choice made by the government.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is bound to create ripple effects already being felt in India though New Delhi has stayed away from swinging either ways. Crude prices touching $ 105 per barrel in spot markets would translate to larger fuel import bill thereby upsetting budget numbers outlined by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

As Russia apart from OPEC has been large exporter of hydrocarbons in particular to Europe, the crisis will increase fuel prices and shortage in almost all of Europe. For instance, Finland imports most of its crude while Hungary gets 83 per cent, Austria – 62 per cent and Germany imports 46 per cent of its natural gas.

Russia’s output had kept fuel prices competitive while curbing the Gulf dominance, its engagement otherwise will give space for the monopolies that’s bound to distort market prices, distribution as well as access. Precarious growth of world economy that’s bracing post-Covid will be badly hit. Most importantly, it will create crude induced inflationary pressures in countries like India where over 80 per cent fuel demand is met through imports.

Recent World Bank report Global Economic Prospects argued that the world is walking towards global slowdown as the fiscal support in the wake of corona virus pandemic wanes, increase in debts and inequalities would kick in across the world.

There is no denying that Europe and the world at large are treading choppy waters. Though the ongoing invasion may not go the cold war way, it will certainly wreak havoc on lives of innocent people caught in the crossfire.

Human cost involved in the war should act as deterrence and the countries involved should rather focus on progressive de-escalation measures. At the same time, there is need for recognizing bullies that do not allow for sustainable global order. An eye for eye attitude will turn the entire humanity blind!

(Author is a doctoral scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University and contributing fellow, Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, New Delhi. Views expressed are author\’s own.)   

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