In the past few days, substantial digital and print column space has been dedicated to India’s stand on the Ukraine crisis since it began late last month. Some commentators have raised questions about India’s abstention, at the United Nations Security Council – not once, but thrice – from the vote against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or issuing a rebuke to it for its actions, at the very least.
On February 25, India abstained on a proposed UNSC resolution that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine. In a carefully-considered stance, TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN “regretted” that the “path of diplomacy was given up” and urged all parties to “return to it.”
There are reasons for this posture adopted by India.
First, there are the decades-old cultural ties between India and Russia. Historically, India has been closer to Russia than any other major world power. This is helped in no small measure by the geography of the two countries and the easy exchange of thoughts, ideas, stories, legends during the Soviet era and considerable military and diplomatic exchanges in more recent years. Just as the US is closer to the UK by dint of the two countries sharing a common ancestral legacy, despite being separated by the Atlantic Ocean, similarly, India and Russia are natural allies and their deep historical ties play a huge role in this.
Secondly, Russia has always been a loyal friend and supporter of India, most notably at the United Nations. Traditionally, the British have usually been too ready to accommodate Pakistan’s interests relating to Kashmir, as on 1 January, 1948, when, in a letter to the UNSC, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru urged the council to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir, and “to call upon Pakistan to put an end immediately to their act of aggression against India.”
At the time, although the British intervened, they did not keep India in the room, accommodated Pakistan’s counter-response and passed a resolution that led to the establishment of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). This was followed by a mandate to conduct a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. The repercussions of that decision are still being felt in India, 74 years later.
Then comes the shaky moral ground being tread upon by Western countries in questioning the actions of Russia in Ukraine given the former’s own chequered history of ‘intervening’ in conflicts ranging from the Iraq War to the Afghanistan ‘war on terror’ and including Libya and the war in Kosovo. Some commentators have drawn attention to the fact that NATO countries have no imperative to question, berate, condemn Russia given their own conduct in conflict situations across the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Another factor being cited in this context is the fact that Ukraine had voted against India in the UNSC after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998 under ‘Operation Shakti’. At that time, Ukraine, along with 25 other countries, had strongly condemned India’s nuclear tests and voted in favour of UN Resolution 1172. This resolution, passed at the UNSC, demanded that India stop its nuclear tests and sign the NPT and CTBT. The resolution also asked India to stop nuclear programmes and the development and production of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. All through this, Ukraine supported the UN.
Also, it is common knowledge that the US had sent its aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal, to overtly intimidate India during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, in which India had played a decisive role. As a counter to this move, the Russians dispatched a nuclear armed flotilla which had an array of destroyers, frigates and submarines from Vladivostok on Dec 13, 1971. Evidently, Russia had stood by India during this critical juncture and provided it much needed geopolitical buttressing.
In the final assessment, the dictum that “there are no permanent friends or enemies in geopolitics, only permanent interests”, is being widely adduced to explain India’s abstention from the UNSC resolution condemning Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Incidentally, Russia is also invoking the plight of Russian-speakers in Ukraine, the support Russia commands among rebel-held Donbas territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is considered to be heading ‘a gang of drug-addicts and neo-Nazis’ as sufficient justification for its ‘Operation Ukraine’.
While the jury is out on the truth of the above assertions, it is nobody’s case that NATO and its agencies should first introspect on their own role in conflicts, many of which could convincingly be categorised as having been ‘created’ or ‘manufactured’, before castigating Russia for its actions in Ukraine and criticising India for looking out for its national interests by abstaining from voting against Russia at the UNSC.