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Russia’s Ukraine war, India’s contradicting reactions and its ultimate goal

By Theashwaniverma - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

India’s refusal to adhere to Western sanctions against Russia as a consequence of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is in stark contrast to its recent repeated confirmations of unequivocally siding with its QUAD partners US, Japan and Australia against China’s expansion and its joining the newly created quadrilateral forum I2U2, a grouping comprising India, Israel, United Arab Emirates and the United States. Add to this Modi’s trip to Europe a few weeks ago to strengthen India’s relations with Western partners and its determination to finally step up its regional influence around the Indian Ocean as a reaction to Chinese expansion in the area.

It has been repeatedly said that India depends on Russian arms. This dependency is decades-old and will take years to be changed. At least military cooperation is growing with the US and other Western arms suppliers. So, there is a trend of getting away from Russian arms supplies. The other dependency explaining India’s refusal to join sanctions against Russia is its reliance on Russian oil. In the current energy market situation, India, together with China, can impose in their energy trade with Russia buyers’ conditions. They say they pay for Russian oil a third of the booming world market price. The growing efforts of Europe to diminish its dependency on Russian oil and gas will ultimately bring down the suppliers power on the market. But that, too, will take years before materialising. Before that, it will become visible that China and India are not able to take over all the oil that Europeans plan to substitute by energy alternatives. So, it seems that Western countries, first annoyed by India’s refusal to join them in sanctioning Russia for an illegitimate breach of international law, accept for the time being India’s policies in reaction to the Ukraine war. But PM Modi will soon have to credibly show that he understands that favouring Russia’s war of aggression cannot be sustained as a partner of alliances directed against China. Actually, this will remain India’s main concern: who and what helps them to contain China in its aggressive expansion on the continent and in the Indian Ocean area. Certainly not Russia. Indians know it can only be in the framework of newly acquired partnerships, i.e. together with global powers who fight against Putin’s full-blown imperialist attempts of restoring Russian, or rather ex-Soviet “grandeur”, for which the Russian Federation lacks a sustaining economy and economic growth, genuine strategic partnerships other than with Belarus, and finally, and most importantly, soft power of a global appeal. American and European values and soft-power remain unmatched for that purpose. India can try to join them … or give up its own dreams of a global role in strategic affairs.

17th August 2022 / Philippe Welti

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