Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Why won’t India budge on Russia?

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Why won’t India budge on Russia?

In this episode of Worldview with Suhasini Haidar, we look at ten reasons why the Modi government hasn’t budged on ties with Moscow.

Amidst a diplomatic downpour in Delhi from Western countries urging sanctions against Russia, we look at 10 reasons why the Modi government hasn’t budged on ties with Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Delhi at the very end of a deluge of envoys and ministers from countries pushing sanctions against Russia. In Delhi, he met with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval and PM Narendra Modi.

The message from his visit was 3-fold:

1. That Russia has not been isolated for the war in Ukraine- Mr. Lavrov came to Delhi from Tunxi in China, where he had met with Foreign Ministers of 6 neighbouring countries on Afghanistan

2. Russia and India will seek alternative payment mechanisms to the SWIFT system, and Rupee-Rouble trade will be intensified. In effect that India and Russia will seek ways to bypass the sanctions put in place in the past month by US, EU and partner countries- more than 30 countries

3.Despite the war, there will be no disruptions in Russian supplies of military hardware supplies to India, and Russia is happy to supply India for more of its energy requirements. According to international agencies, India has, in the month or so since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, already bought the same amount that it bought in the whole of 2021.

Clearly, this is not an outcome that will please countries in the coalition against Russia at present: US, European Union and Asian partners like Japan, Australia and Singapore, who conducted their own diplomatic missions as well.

Over a period of two weeks, Delhi received no less than 15 senior dignitaries. Not all of them were here to push for sanctions, and many were purely discussing bilateral issues, but there is no question that the war in Ukraine, sanctions, and the resultant economic impact was at the top of everyone’s mind in these meetings that included:

– In person summits with Japan PM Kishida and Nepal PM Deuba, and virtually with Australian PM Morrisson. A phone call fro UK PM Johnson as well, who is expected to visit in April, while PM Modi is expected to travel in May to Germany and other European countries.

– Foreign Ministers of UK, China, Austria, Greece, Oman, Mexico and Russia

– National Security Advisors of Germany, Netherlands, and the EU Special Envoy on the Indo Pacific

– The US sent not one but 2 emissaries- Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, and Deputy NSA Daleep Singh

We dealt with the Chinese FM visit last week, and if you set aside Oman and Mexico, the broad message from the others was:

1. To ask India to shift its position on refusing to criticise Russia in any multilateral resolution- 11 votes of abstention so far at the UNSC, UNGA, IAEA, HRC. In addition the US is trying to build a case for cutting Russia out of the G-20 as well.

2. To offer alternatives to India’s military hardware from Russia- making the case that European countries and the US stand ready to help India diversify its Russian military purchases.

3. To discourage India’s purchase of oil from Russia. Although Europe continues to take Russian oil, and US sanctions exempt energy trade – the idea that India is increasing not decreasing oil intake from Russia worries them.

4. To absolutely oppose any plans by India to work out alternate payment mechanisms to the SWIFT network which Russia has been thrown out of, or even to increase Rupee Rouble trade that seeks to “prop up” the Russian economy. US Dy NSA Daleep Singh even said that there are consequences for any country that seeks to subvert sanctions- words that followed US President Biden calling India “somewhat shaky”, WhiteHouse NSC official saying India’s stand was “unsatisfactory and unsurprising”, and US Commerce Secretary Raimondo called any decision to buy more Russian oil “deeply disappointing”, all remarks that didn’t go down well in Delhi.

Even so the reasons for India’s stand with Russia are far deeper- let us take a look at all the reasons that the Modi government is not shifting its position- despite the messages from Washington, London, Brussels, Berlin, Tokyo, Canberra etc

1. India’s traditional relationship with Russia, which was concretised 50 years ago in a peace and friendship treaty with the Soviet Union- In 1979, India did not criticise the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, 2008 in Georgia, 2014 in Crimea and in 2022, India has not criticised the current invasion of Ukraine. Contrast this with the US, where in 2003, India didnt just criticise the US invasion of Iraq, the Vajpayee government passed a parliamentary resolution against it.

2. Dependence on Russian military hardware: Despite more than a decade of diversifying arms and military hardware purchases- to the US, France and other countries, India’s purchases from Russia still makes about 60% of hardware, 85% of its spares procurement, and nearly all of the technology transfer purchases. India’s premier military export the BrahMos is the result of India Russia collaboration.

3. Russia has supported India at the United Nations- particularly since it can use its veto at the UNSC, often going against its own partner China to ensure that discussions targeting India are avoided. While Western countries have also supported India, they have not been as steadfast on some issues.

4. India’s Continental challenges: While India’s partnership with the US in the Quad deals with the maritime sphere, India’s immediate security threats lie to its continental boundaries: From China at the LAC, Pakistan at the LoC and Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists. In this scenario, India’s Russia partnership gives geographical support.

5. There are the economic costs of not dealing with Russia at a time of global economic crisis. Remember, in 2018, when the US put pressure India to zero out oil from Iran, and then Venezuela, the Modi government did cave in, and has suffered subsequently with inflation, as they were among India’s cheapest oil suppliers. Post-covid , the government cannot afford to take another big hit, if Russia is selling India discounted oil.

6. On renewable energy, India has a lot of support from EU and US, but on nuclear power, Russia is the only country in the world that currently operates nuclear power plants in India. US, France, Canada, Japan, Australia all have civil nuclear deals with India, but thus far, none are actually transacting, due to legal reasons and slowed by concerns over the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and India’s refusal to give up nuclear testing. In a scenario where India isn’t even a member of NSG despite its efforts, will mean it needs Russia’s unwavering support.

7. In the broader scheme- Western sanctions against Russia have been followed by about 40 countries- but there is a big swathe of others who are not joining them: From Mexico and South America, to many countries in Africa, the Middle East, South and South East Asia. If the world gets broken into two sides of dollar and non-dollar trade, India would want to keep all options open.

8. Since 2019, the government has faced sharp criticism from the US and EU over democracy and human rights, minority rights, Jammu Kashmir, CAA, NRC and Farmers protests- In contrast, Russian President Putin and Russian leaders never raise these issues with the government.

9. Comfort levels with Russia, personal ties between PM Modi and President Putin, visits, and a common agenda at organisations like BRICS, RIC and SCO- as well as the assistance Russia provides in talks with China post 2020 aggression by the PLA.

10. Priniciples of strategic autonomy and non-alignment: The government appears to be asserting India’s independence and right to be sovereign- this is the reason given on all its actions…from the UN vote, to buying russian oil.

By choosing to stand up with Russia despite Western entreaties and threats, India has taken a tough position. The challenge will lie in keeping that line if the West decides to take tougher measures on India’s dealings with Russia- trade barriers, sanctions etc. India’s strategic autonomy or non aligned posture can only win the day if it is genuinely autonomous and doesn’t take decisions due to compulsion.

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