By Don McLain Gill & Upamanyu Basu
With allegedly 100,000 Russian troops deployed around the Ukrainian Border, this is perhaps the lowest point in Russian-Ukrainian Relations since the last decade. Given this backdrop, the peace and order of Eastern Europe continues to edge closer to a potential shooting war. While India has a limited level of influence in Eastern Europe’s geopolitical affairs, its stakes are just as high due to the global implications that can erupt from this issue. It is on this note that India will seek to play its cards well to decrease instances of a one-sided provocation, which will have grave consequences to its interests.
In the UN Security Council Meet, Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzia argued about the United States being a provocateur due to its influence in the anti-Russian political awakening in Ukraine. Russia’s position on the 2014 Crimenian annexation was also a point of justification regarding American influence in toppling a pro Russian government in Ukraine and the fleeing of the then President Yanukovych. The US, on the other hand, expresses deep concern about Russian military aggression towards Ukraine to be a critical challenge to the very fabric of sovereignty under the United Nations Charter. However, Russian President Vladmir Putin’s sharp remarks against the potential expansion of NATO membership towards Ukraine creates a necessary raison d’etre for the contemporary Cold War theatrics in the January 31 UNSC meeting.
After 2014 , both the European Union and Russia served mutual economic sanctions , choking global economic chains.The Crimean annexation is testament to the fact that Eurasian political instabilities have global diplomatic and economic repercussions .The previous annexation had created a series of economic sanctions on Russia by the European Union , as well as the US. The last round of economic sanctions had a serious impact on the Russian economy. This had compelled Moscow to refrain from tilting the status-quo in Eastern Europe since the 2014-debacle. However the current military escalation around Ukrainian borders begs a similar question.
As the tensions surrounding Russia and Ukraine continue to unfold, the world has its eyes on the major players in the international landscape. Among them, India holds an interesting and important place. While Europe,Russia, and the US have far more direct stakes in the current dilemma, India’s position in this crossroads represents its broader strategic balancing between the West and Russia. Both Russia and the US hold distinct, yet critically important roles in India’s foreign policy and regional interests.
While it is seen that New Delhi has been significantly expanding its relations with the US on a wide array of issues and to maintain the rules-based order, its historic and pragmatic strategic partnership with Russia remains robust and intact. The current issue at hand serves as a crucial test of India’s ability to balance major power relations on one hand and secure its immediate security concerns and interests on the other.
A major element in this equation centres around China and its impact towards the global balance of power. China’s assertive actions not only along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India but also all throughout the region continues to be a major constraint to achieve a stable, peaceful, and rules-based region. Moreover, as China also continues to be locked in a power competition with the US, the former will utilise any factor that will aid in altering the balance of power to its favor.In this context, China’s economic clout has drawn Russia closer into its orbit despite geopolitical concerns that persist between them, particularly on the influence over Central Asia. Moreover, China seeks to incorporate Russia’s tumultuous relationship with the West as a pivotal bulwark in its power competition with the US.
With the tensions in Eastern Europe escalating by the day, it will be in India’s interest to prevent the issue from looking like Russia is being backed into a corner by other major powers. This will inevitably push it closer towards China, which will be detrimental not only for India’s interests, but also to the stability of the global geopolitical landscape. As a result, New Delhi has sought to maximize its position as a major power to illustrate pragmatism at a time when emotions and rhetoric are on the rise.
This attempt was witnessed during the January 31 United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine, where India emphasised that the “legitimate security interests of all sides” must be taken into consideration. In addition, “Any steps that increase tension may best be avoided by all sides in the larger interest of securing international peace and security”. These statements reflect an important view in the context of the issue at hand. India’s emphasis on the need for both sides to be sensitive regarding each other’s security concerns is an indication that like the West, Russia also has security concerns that need to be addressed.
This breaks away from the one-sided narratives that have the potential of exacerbating the already strained situation. On top of that, India’s vote to abstain from the proposal of having an open meeting on Ukraine also points to this point.
India recognizes the importance of its partnership with both the West and Russia. It is in this context that it seeks to maximize any means to control the situation from falling deeper into a pit that may lead to a shooting war. While significantly alleviating this issue may not be achieved in the short-term, or even in the mid-term, India will attempt to maximise its diplomatic capacity to contribute to the overall level of peace despite it not having as much influential leverage in Eastern European affairs.