India must wait out, not react and continue to act in its best national interests. What are those national Interests? Our core national interests are safety and security of the people and territorial integrity of the nation as spelt out in the preamble of the Indian Constitution very simplistically and explicitly. If that be so, in the current crisis, with over 20,000 Indian nationals in the war zone, the country needed the good offices of both Russia and Ukraine to evacuate them to safety
By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
The American government and many of its academics are outraged by India’s refusal to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. As per reports, USA had sent (and then recalled) a cable to its diplomats to the effect that India was considered to be in the Russian camp. It was also reported that the US was considering sanctioning India. One article stated that the strategic shock to India due to the Russian invasion will be equivalent to the 1991Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are opinions that even if Russia wins, India will be an international pariah, not a partner in global governance. Some even warned that India’s close ties to Russia are likely to become a liability to the United States , as it competes against China.
The questions which arise are – Why did India do what it did? What is the way forward? All this will become clearer if we first examine how much of all this is the kettle calling the pot black. For the current moment , India must wait out, not react and continue to act in its best national interests. What are those national Interests? Our core national interests are safety and security of the people and territorial integrity of the nation as spelt out in the preamble of the Indian Constitution very simplistically and explicitly. If that be so, in the current crisis, with over 20000 Indian nationals in the war zone, the country needed the good offices of both Russia and Ukraine to evacuate them to safety. That has been achieved. Territorial integrity of the nation implies defending our borders against Pakistan and China, who are our main adversaries. It is common knowledge that Indian Armed Forces are equipped with weaponry of Russian origin and depend on it for continuous upkeep. This status has existed for more than half a century. Good equations with Russia are essential at least for the next decade, if we have to ward off Pakistan and China. Over and above that we have deep relations with Russia which extend beyond defence into space , atomic energy and a wide range of other sectors. More importantly, Russia and its predecessor state USSR have stood by India at its hour of need. Indo-Russian ties are far deeper than just defence relations. Does that mean that we overlook Russia’s aggression? No. Does it mean that we condemn them? No. What we need to do is maintain balance, have patience and display wisdom. Get the important things done first. That is what we have done.
India has abstained thrice from voting on resolutions against Russia in the UN. However on all three occasions it has taken pains to explain its stand. At various points of time, its explanations stressed on adherence to the principles of UN charter and international law, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. It also expressed concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation and the ensuing humanitarian crisis. India also called for immediate cessation of violence without naming Russia. It sought safe humanitarian access to conflict zones. India also expressed willingness to contribute in any way towards peace efforts. Besides this, our Prime Minister has spoken to Mr Putin and Mr Zelensky with the aim of keeping dialogue channels open and also to ensure that Indians in Ukraine are safely evacuated. Very importantly, India was one of the first countries to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine which included medicines, tents and other important items which are required in such situations. More tranches are on the way. This is more than other countries which have just promised aid and done nothing. Overall, India took a call as per its interests. However, its statements and actions have underlined its principles. For those who understand, it is as clear as daylight. However for those who want India to fall in line and nod its head whenever USA or its allies want it so, there is a requirement of a reality check.
Initially when the conflict commenced, it was universally portrayed that Russia was carrying out a merciless campaign against innocent and defenceless Ukrainians. However as days have gone by, the fog of the conflict is lifting and, a degree of clarity is setting in. The western media is ruling the roost and we are being swamped with only one side of the story. The overall perception is that NATO is strong, holy and upright, Ukrainians are innocent sufferers fighting valiantly and the evil Russian aggressors are causing widespread causalities to civilians and infrastructure indiscriminately. It is also being portrayed that the Russian Forces are demoralised, unprofessional, poorly led and trained. And added that the ordinary Russian is against the war. However the fact is that majority of Russians back Putin even as per an US analysis. Notwithstanding all this, the undeniable fact is that close to 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country as refugees. This is a humanitarian crisis. Let us put all this into perspective.
There is no doubt that this is the biggest crisis that has touched Europe since the Second WW and that Russia is the aggressor. However it is now clearly emerging that the main instigator of this conflict is USA. This is not my view but the view of reputed US analysts! From Kissinger to John Mearsheimer, many have been cautioning USA to stay away from Ukraine and not expand NATO eastwards. In this connection , an interview by John Mearsheimer in The New Yorker is very illuminative. This is a story which commenced in 2006. Very clearly, if the aggressor is to be condemned, the instigator should also be condemned. Further, compare the reasons for this invasion and that undertaken by USA and UK into Iraq in 2003. In this case there are some genuine grievances of Russia. The Iraq invasion was premised on a fabricated case that Saddam had WMDs, when the whole world was sceptical against it. No one condemned USA then! Double standards galore.
India must articulate its stand more intellectually and diplomatically through its think tanks, official and quasi-official channels. It includes showing a mirror to USA and the larger West so that sanctimony is avoided on both sides. Realpolitik must be brought into play using US thinkers and their logic apart from ours to turn the perceptions around.
While there have been unavoidable loss of lives in this war and innocent civilians have been affected, there is a need to look at it objectively. The total number of civilian casualties might be around 600 after 14 days of ‘intense’ fighting. Compare it to the civilian causalities in Iraq, where the figures range between 50,000 and 650,000 as per Encyclopaedia Brittannica. Incomparable! We were all treated to the shock and awe of USA airpower, on our TVs, at that time which showed extensive collateral damage by daisy cutters and other ammunition to Iraqi infrastructure. On the other hand, RUSI has analysed in great detail the Mysterious Case of the Missing Russian Airforce in this conflict. Very obviously, the Russians have not been using air force extensively in their operations. If they had done so, their operations would have progressed much faster albeit with higher civilian causalities and collateral damage. There is clearly a mismatch in the narrative. Have the Russians been using minimum force? Are their operations slow by design? If a professional military mind is applied, lot of doubts creep in. Tass has also reported that Russia is ready with more than 10,500 tons of humanitarian aid for Ukraine. But then, who reads Tass these days? Hence that is lost input for the wider public. My point is , if Russia is to be tried for war crimes, what do you do with USA? It has destroyed nations completely. Double standards again?
There is also a huge cry about the evolving humanitarian crisis with refugees streaming into Moldova, Hungary, Poland and other nations. While it is a dire situation, what we see on the media is well fed and well clothed people moving into refugee status in a reasonably organised manner. Spare a thought for 42 million Afghans who have been left abandoned as refugees in their in their own country, who cannot go anywhere and, are currently facing hunger whilst lacking basic shelter and clothing. We do not even get to see them. Different people different situation. Same USA!
A curious issue that is emerging is the extent of bioweapon labs and research in Ukraine which are sponsored by USA. It will be interesting to link it up with Wuhan virology lab where connections with US based establishments surfaced. This includes funding and major involvement. There is clearly more than what meets the eye. It will surface in due course.
The purpose of this analysis is not to get involved in the morality of the European crisis or culpability of USA in this mess. It is to examine as to how to navigate the future. As the war has progressed, it is clearer by the day that India’s stand in this affair is not only in the best interests of the nation but also ethical and balanced. However, the reality is also that India has a strategic partnership with a miffed USA and it has an important stake in the QUAD. One should not lose sight of the larger issue of the common adversary we have in China. How do we keep the Indo US strategic relationship on keel?
A few issues are relevant in this context. The fallout of the Ukraine crisis will lead to a restructured world order. US allies are realising the limits in the trust which one can repose in Washington. The nuclear dimension is changing with Japan and South Korea indicating a likely shift in their nuclear policy. Indications from China suggest a shift in its own stand. Most importantly, the Russo Ukraine crisis seems to be heading to an end state with a significant climb down by Ukraine and with their foreign ministers having parleys as to how to end the crisis. As and when the crisis ends, a deal will be struck. To my way of thinking, the deal will not only be between Russia and Ukraine but will lead to a larger understanding between Russia and the wider west. Things will cool down.
Lastly, this entire crisis has brought home the importance of Atmanirbharta. India must redouble its efforts at attaining strategic independence through Atmanirbharta. In doing so, it must leverage relations with Russia and USA further to get high end manufacturing and research going. I doubt if we have any other option. In fact, this crisis has created an opportunity. Let us work to exploit it
When all this is seen holistically, India’s way forward emerges. India must articulate its stand more intellectually and diplomatically through its think tanks, official and quasi-official channels. It includes showing a mirror to USA and the larger West so that sanctimony is avoided on both sides. Realpolitik must be brought into play using US thinkers and their logic apart from ours to turn the perceptions around. My guess is that if we play the right lines, the ongoing discourse in USA will automatically sort the situation. The second issue is that USA must be convinced to stay focussed on the Indo Pacific as is being done by our foreign minister and not veer away. Given time, things will set right. Thirdly, India’s standing with Russia and Ukraine is good. We have already expressed willingness to contribute in any way towards peace efforts. Is there a case for the PM to initiate mediation? India needs to take the initiative since China might not be acceptable and Israel might not have the heft. Thereafter, take the relationship with both countries forward to the next level. Ukraine will need us more. Fourthly, China is making a tentative effort at normalising equations with us. That much was evident in their foreign ministers statement, that current state of Sino Indian relations do not serve the fundamental interest of both countries and people. Though it is early days , the shift is significant as the world order changes. We need to maximise on this. Lastly, this entire crisis has brought home the importance of Atmanirbharta. India must redouble its efforts at attaining strategic independence through Atmanirbharta. In doing so, it must leverage relations with Russia and USA further to get high end manufacturing and research going. I doubt if we have any other option. In fact, this crisis has created an opportunity. Let us work to exploit it.
-The writer is former DG Artillery, Indian Army. He is presently working at Department of Aerospace, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. Views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in