December 5, 2022

Ukraine war and India’s strategic venture

Strategically, this is a challenging situation for India as New Delhi needs to strike a balance in its relationship with the US and Russia. This is the reason India is taking cautious steps. India has been in touch with Moscow regarding the emerging situation and her efforts to bring the conflicting sides to the negotiating table. Similarly, India is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine refugees living in former Europe.

By Shibdas Bhattacharjee

It’s debatable whether the Ukraine War is World War III or not. The intensity of the conflict undoubtedly reflects the fact that military escalation has reached unprecedented proportions in comparison to any war that has erupted since World War II. However, magnitude is certainly not the only parameter for identifying a military conflict as a “World War.” In fact, there is no set definition of “World War.” But, in the form of the Ukraine War, the world community witnessed how, for ideological reasons, men can be slaughtered mercilessly or left to die, ushering in a new era of slavery. This is the exact situation in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine are dying in a conflict which could have been avoided. Russian aggression in Ukraine has crossed every limit. This becomes evident if civilian casualties are taken into consideration, as has been stated in the media so far. Things are no longer confined to condemning and criticising Russia and the imperialistic agenda of President Putin. This time it is to act and restrict Russia or make intensive counteroffensives to compel Moscow to deescalate.

Russia has proved once again that its doctrine has no regard for human lives and rights, including women, children, and patients under treatment in hospitals in Ukrainian cities. But why does the rest of the world seem helpless before Russia? How has Putin overpowered his opponents? Why does Ukraine seem to remain at the mercy of Russia? One cannot bypass all of these. This is because certain promises were made to Ukraine as it emerged as a sovereign nation. Since Russia’s military deployment in eastern Ukraine this time, more such promises have been made to Ukraine. These are questions for NATO as the conflict has been going on regarding Ukraine’s becoming a part of NATO. NATO gave all assurances to Ukraine to safeguard its territorial integrity in the event of any Russian invasion. But NATO has done nothing substantive so far except giving lectures on democratic solidarity and human rights. These rhetorical terms have no place when people are dying and immense destruction is going on. In this context, NATO has virtually played a dirty game. Why are they now silent spectators if, just days after 9/11, the US-NATO could launch a military adventure against Afghanistan without conducting any investigation into whether it was planned and executed from Afghanistan?

The question that has been very much in the air is whether India should change her strategic standpoint considering the Ukraine war. In this context, an important meeting of QUAD took place on March 3. In this virtual meeting, Prime Minister Modi took part along with the leaders of the US, Japan, and Australia. Some media reports stated that US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to put pressure on India to take a stand against Russia and India had to face embarrassment. But such reports have no logic because Prime Minister Modi tactically changed the narrative and focus of the meeting. His point was very logical, as he raised the security concerns of the Indo-Pacific more prominently

In fact, in the case of American action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and others, the US never bothered taking the international community into confidence. Then, at a time when global opinion is utterly against Russia, why are the US, UK, and NATO teaching the world the lesson of non-violence? This became utterly clear when Ukrainian journalist Daria Kaleniuk asked UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson this question. She openly described the British PM as a coward and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, you are afraid of Russia.” She made the entire media fraternity proud when she raised issues like assurances made to her country by Britain, Britain’s proposal to transfer Ukraine’s nuclear power plant to Russia, the plight of the Ukrainian people because of the betrayal of Britain, and so on. Naturally, the beleaguered UK PM had nothing to say in reply. Rather, he gave a peculiar logic that Britain would abstain from engaging in direct military conflict against Russia to avoid World War III at a time when Moscow threatened the world with nuclear war.

Naturally, this illustrates two important aspects. One is that the existing NATO is weak against Russia. The other is the fallout from this war; NATO has every chance of being dived. However, the point here is India’s strategic adventure at this hour of crisis. Strategically, this is a challenging situation for India as New Delhi needs to strike a balance in its relationship with the US and Russia. This is the reason India is taking cautious steps. India has been in touch with Moscow regarding the emerging situation and her efforts to bring the conflicting sides to the negotiating table. Similarly, India is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine refugees living in former Europe.

However, the question that has been very much in the air is whether India should change her strategic standpoint considering the Ukraine war. In this context, an important meeting of QUAD took place on March 3. In this virtual meeting, Prime Minister Modi took part along with the leaders of the US, Japan, and Australia. Some media reports stated that US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to put pressure on India to take a stand against Russia and India had to face embarrassment. But such reports have no logic because Prime Minister Modi tactically changed the narrative and focus of the meeting. His point was very logical, as he raised the security concerns of the Indo-Pacific more prominently. In fact, this is the primary agenda of the QUAD. He stated that dealing with the Ukraine crisis is the duty of America and other NATO members. PM Modi proved the futility of Japanese and Australian policies to deescalate the Ukraine crisis. Japan has put economic sanctions on Russia and Australia. The Senate and House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Russia. But the point is, have these proved to be fruitful? Sanctions on Russia have proved to be utterly ineffective at the given time. After all, almost all the NATO nations have imposed sanctions on Russia. But has this stopped Russian escalation or provided respite to the Ukraine in any way? Similarly, PM Modi pointed a finger at the strategy and agenda of the US and NATO nations regarding Ukraine. Is this convincing at all?

It is true that India definitely feels for Ukraine and is ready to deliver whatever is affordable to resolve the issue through diplomacy. But, under no circumstances India can take a military stance in a conflict that is taking place thousands of miles away from its strategic periphery. Similarly, how can the US expect that because of its foolish policy or rather cunning nature, India will sour up her bilateral relations with Russia based on a solid platform?

What PM Modi meant to say is very loud and clear; Ukraine is America’s problem, and Washington can have no right to point a finger at others for its dubious policies. Similarly, considering the geo-strategic location of Japan and Australia, it becomes true that, despite much hype, these countries are not in a position to provide military support to Ukraine. Even if they try to do so, this will just increase volatility in the Indo-Pacific, and certainly India cannot let it happen; jeopardising security interests in her periphery.

In fact, this is a perfectly logical domain. In war, security and strategic issues, there can be no place for emotion. It is true that India definitely feels for Ukraine and is ready to deliver whatever is affordable to resolve the issue through diplomacy. But, under no circumstances India can take a military stance in a conflict that is taking place thousands of miles away from its strategic periphery. Similarly, how can the US expect that because of its foolish policy or rather cunning nature, India will sour up her bilateral relations with Russia based on a solid platform? In this turmoil, the prime focus of QUAD should be a close watch on Chinese activities in the Indo-Pacific, the South China Sea, the approach of North Korea and Myanmar, as well as the interests of Taiwan, South Korea, and ASEAN countries. Because the US is preoccupied with the Ukraine crisis and its primary focus is the Ukraine war, China has leverage to escalate. India, Japan, and Australia cannot play a direct role in Ukraine, but they can and should in the Indo-Pacific. Already, there are unconfirmed reports of Chinese escalations against Taiwan’s air defence. The situation is more complicated in the South China Sea these days. If Japan cannot secure its strategic interests in the South China Sea, what can it do for Ukraine? Similarly important are the issues related to Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of the important developments is certainly Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Moscow amid the Ukraine crisis. So also, India’s relations with Iran cannot be kept aside considering the sinister Chinese design of extending its bases to Chabahar and Bandar Abbas ports.

But it really seems surprising that China has not displayed that much offensive behaviour during this time. There are diverse implications of this unusual silence on the part of Beijing considering the military conflict in Ukraine. Here, Putin’s present status becomes important. No doubt, Putin has committed the worst crime against humanity in recent history. If one keeps the Taliban and Putin in the same line, there will be nothing wrong with this. But as far as the strategic spectrum is concerned; Putin has evolved as the most powerful leader in the existing world. Today, Putin represents Communism in the face of capitalist NATO. Compared to him and Russia, Xi Jinping and China seem like nothing. Rather evident is the fact that Putin is less interested in fueling conflict in the Southeast and East Asian regions. Putin is well aware of the fact that after so many economic sanctions, it will be difficult for him to reconstruct Russia economically and run its business in other parts of the world. This is the reason Putin will never allow China to display escalation in the name of Communism. Putin wants to be the lone exponent of Communism. Naturally, despite cooperation, China is its rival. India rightly discovered this weak nerve of Putin’s that Russia will need India in the days ahead. This indirectly makes India an important stakeholder in the Ukraine issue. But it serves India’s strategic interests as well. India cannot accept Imran Khan’s visit to Russia lightly at this time.

India’s stand on Ukraine and her agenda regarding QUAD are more realistic than those of Japan or Australia. Why should QUAD be involved in a conflict between NATO and Russia? If President Biden approaches India to take a stand because the US is losing ground in its traditional strongholds, Biden and Putin have made Ukraine a virtual scapegoat. All of this is being witnessed by the international community, including Russia and NATO

All these things prove that India’s stand on Ukraine and her agenda regarding QUAD are more realistic than those of Japan or Australia. Why should QUAD be involved in a conflict between NATO and Russia? If President Biden approaches India to take a stand because the US is losing ground in its traditional strongholds, Biden and Putin have made Ukraine a virtual scapegoat. All of this is being witnessed by the international community, including Russia and NATO. Who says a weaker US means a weaker democracy? When did the US take a stand for democracy? The credibility of the US has decreased to an unprecedented low because it is evident that Americans act only when their interest matter. For the US, Ukraine has no importance. Who can ignore that NATO and the US have ultimately empowered Russia? Feeding the US agenda can never be India’s purpose, nor does it serve the strategic interests of the region. QUAD members Japan and Australia should also understand this. We are concerned about Ukraine and have sympathy for the people of that country. India is committed to providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. India and QUAD should be with Ukraine but certainly not with NATO, which is trying to fish in this troubled water. This may sound selfish. But when the matter is strategic loss and gain, there can be no place for emotion. I feel, India is doing just the right thing as part of her strategic agenda at this hour of crisis. New Delhi’s stand is logical. Someone may have a different opinion. I respect this. But I shall only admit it if there is logic and never on the basis of someone special saying so. Be focused on what, not who.

Shibdas Bhattacharjee is an Assam-based columnist and strategic affairs analyst. He writes his article under a specific category of “Sagacious Beholding.” The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://www.strategicaffairsindia.in 

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