“Ukrainian civilians obviously don’t care about fashion,” Czech Twitter not only insulted when India increased its consumption of Russian oil in mid-March. The disillusionment was further heightened by the fact that India, along with many other Asian and African countries, did not side with Ukraine in the UN General Assembly votes in late February. However, the idea that an internally problematic but still democratic country will simply vote in the name of human and international rights is simplified. He forgets not only the Indian tradition of non-participation, but also the complicated ties with Russia. So what is stopping India from standing where the West would like to see it?
Between weapons and sanctions
The first reason we can see in the long-term strategic ties with Russia. India’s reliance on Soviet and Russian weapons dates back to 1962, when India began arming itself after losing the war with China. The mutually beneficial trade continued after the collapse of the USSR – the declining power was convinced that it had a big customer for its production, and the Indian army was convinced that, unlike Western countries, Russia is able and willing to provide not only cheaper but also more sophisticated technologies, for example the production of nuclear submarines.
“The West is not doing enough for us, so why should we fully support it?” ask many Indians.
Yes, India has diversified its portfolio in recent years. For example, it has acquired French Dassault Rafale fighters and also wishes to support national production. Nevertheless, Russia remains its biggest partner. The share of Russian arms supplies has decreased significantly in recent years, but still only by three quarters. After all, the threat of US sanctions still hangs over India for the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, crucial for Indian defence.
It is also clear that economic pressure from the West will bring Russia closer to India’s enemies, China and Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow in the early days of the invasion of Ukraine suggested a lot. Therefore, Delhi logically does not want to provoke Moscow against itself. Good relations with the aggressor were only helpful because they made it easier for India to evacuate around 20,000 students who remained trapped in the war zone. Condemning Russian aggression may be moral, but it costs India too much.
Souvenirs from Bangladesh
Another reason is a bit sentimental. There is a strong belief in the country that India cannot afford to sink its traditional ally. The Soviet Union has supported India diplomatically and militarily since 1947, when it gained independence. The experiences of the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, when the United States supported the hostile Pakistan not only morally but also politically, militarily and economically, resonates strongly with the Indian population. This historic injustice is reinforced by the recent action of the United States, which has never been strong enough against Chinese incursions into Indian territory. During the 2020 diplomatic crisis, by contrast, it was Russian President Putin who pressured China not to escalate a potential conflict. Similarly, Russia has repeatedly blocked UN resolutions on Kashmir to keep the disputed territory issue solely between India and Pakistan.
“The West is not doing enough for us, so why should we fully support it?” ask many Indians. The majority therefore calls for a peaceful solution to the conflict as soon as possible, and the votes of unconditional support for Ukraine are still quite exceptional. The views of Indian representatives in the votes at the UN also pointed in the same direction. Although it does not speak for any of the parties to the conflict, India has not failed to underline the need to respect the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty.
India’s domestic politics also play a role. The hard core of BJP government supporters largely lean towards Putin’s regime rather than the post-colonial West. It is therefore not surprising that Indian troll farms took over the Russian narrative during the early days of the war, and many comments on social media praised the Russian president for his vigorous actions against dangerous Ukrainian fascists and imperialists. Westerners.
The great powers hold together
The last of the important reasons is related to Russian oil, which we mentioned in the introduction. Given the growing energy consumption, India also needs to diversify its energy portfolio as much as possible. It cannot therefore be content to afford an embargo on the supply not only of Russian oil, but also of gas, which could constitute an important element of its energy mix in the years to come.
When it comes to India’s purchases of discounted Russian oil, it’s also good to put all the numbers in context. The six million barrels India has so far brought in from Russia will cover its consumption for about a day. The European Union remains the largest importer of Russian oil and gas, while in India, Russian oil accounts for less than 1% of imports.
When history is written
The Indian attitude since the beginning of the Russian invasion is therefore very similar to that of the Chinese. The two Asian powers are trying to maintain good relations with Russia so that they can continue to extract raw materials from it, despite Western sanctions. Furthermore, India is considering the possibility of replacing Ukraine as the world’s largest grain exporter in the future. In India as in China, the mentality of the big countries also plays an important role – that is, by not undermining Russian interests, they also indirectly consolidate hegemony in their own regions. However, while China is reaping criticism for its stance on Russia, the West is much softer on India. “We understand that India has a complex history and relationship with Russia. They buy most weapons from Russia. The good news is that they are in the midst of a long-term diversification process. … I think when it comes to their relationship with Russia, the trends are going in the right direction,” said Ely Ratner, US commissioner for security in Indochina-Pacific.
Whether it is NATO or the Quad (strategic security partnerships of the United States, India, Australia and Japan), Western countries are well aware that they cannot afford to lose such an important ally. Therefore, when India accepted Russia’s offer of oil at a reduced price, Washington expressed reservations, but eventually understood Delhi’s position. “I don’t think it’s a sanctions violation. But think about where you want to be when history is being made here and now,” a White House spokeswoman said. Jen Psaki.
However, all recent encounters between Indian and Western statesmen indicate that the West is abandoning criticism of India’s position. Instead, he will try to persuade India to cling more firmly to his side. It is clear to everyone that without Indian cooperation, it will be difficult to counterbalance the growing influence of China. At the same time, however, the West will have to come to terms with the fact that it is unlikely to gain the coveted ally with shared values in India.
The author is a political scientist and Indologist.