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Russia’s war against Ukraine and India’s long term interests, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

India abstained, when the UN Security Council voted a resolution condemning Russia for its unsolicited war of aggression against the Ukraine. For some in the West, this positioning may have come as a surprise and certainly as a disappointment. A deeper look into the historic background, however, reveals some logic for Prime Minister Modi’s position. For half a century of its independence, India had enjoyed the Soviet Union’s strategic partnership and support. The ill-advised copying of Soviet heavy industry policies and other old-fashioned Socialist programs may be overcome and forgotten. But geostrategic support in India’s antagonism with China and for its leadership role as a non-aligned country among Third World countries has created a sort of collective feeling of “old loyalty” to the former Soviet Union. One direct consequence of that strategic support was the close cooperation between the two countries in the field of military equipment. India is highly dependent on the supply of Russian military hardware to this day. This serves as a strategic asset in the regional power equation opposing India to China. By maintaining its special relationship with Russia, at least with this regard, India is increasingly undermining US-led Western sanctions aiming at isolating and punishing Russia. Another field of on-going cooperation between India and Russia is trade in energy resources. India is continuing to rely on Russian energy supply. In order to avoid impediments caused by financial sanctions, India and Russia have agreed on a direct Ruble-Rupee exchange system. India is economically not in a position and obviously not willing to give up Russian energy resources and will therefore continue to provide Russia with financial means for the export of oil and gas, probably at discount prices.

India’s necessity-driven refusal to isolate Russia for its blatant breach of international law and peace brings the Subcontinent, thus, closer to the developing anti-Western Russia-China camp. With that, the Indian Government, first, loses Russia as a strategic leverage against its all-time adversary China. They tend to become united against Western alliances and Russia is losing its special role as asset against China. In view of its long-term interests, the Delhi government, secondly, should ask itself how it intends to maintain and develop its newly acquired assets for confronting Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific. Indeed, PM Modi has, over recent years, smartly built new strategic partnerships in his region. Since US-President Clinton offered in 2000 a new type of partnership, freeing India from the isolation in which it was stuck because of the illegal acquisition of a nuclear weaponisation capacity, subsequent Indian Governments have accepted the offer to turn against old socialist loyalties and habits and to develop not only a liberal market economy, but, more recently, even to join military forces with US-led defence arrangements in the region. India is part of a growing political and military setting trying to contain China’s further expansion in Asia.

The US and Europe will probably have to live for a while with the breach in the sanctions regime caused by India’s abstention. But they will certainly develop ways and means to keep beneficial effects for Russia within tight limits. It remains to be seen, how far they will go in making India understand that it is undermining its own future in common collective endeavours against China’s strategic aspirations. Just as Russia has launched a war not only against its neighbour Ukraine, but also against the principle of European democracy, China’s contempt for democracy in Asia will be hurting India and its way of life, if India does not recognise its ultimate interest in values, not only in immediate energy supplies.

12th April 2022 / Philippe Welti


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