India has its own ideas about Russia and Ukraine


Narendra Modi-Vladimir Putin embracing
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin prior to a meeting in New Delhi, India 06 December 2021. (EPA/HARISH) TYAGI

India’s decision to abstain from the procedural vote on Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council on Jan. 31 reminded many observers of India’s presumed instinct to sit on the fence. But India’s decision to avoid entangling itself in the standoff between Russia and the West was driven by far more complex reasons than any attachment to its old ideology of nonalignment. India has a much greater interest in the faraway European crisis than appearances suggest. That’s because Ukraine raises important questions about power and principle that deeply affect India’s security — and highlight the dependence of Asia’s security on stability in Europe.

To be sure, India likes the idea of a sphere of influence that Russia is said to be seeking in Eastern Europe. Preserving India’s South Asian sphere of influence — a view of the country’s role inherited from the British Raj — has been one of more enduring elements of independent India’s foreign policy.

Yet, at the same time, New Delhi can’t buy into Moscow’s promotion by military means of what the latter considers self-determination in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The parallels between how Russia sees Crimea and Donbass on the one hand and how Pakistan views Indian-administered Kashmir, on the other hand, can be argued. But Moscow undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the name of shared history and culture—and backing militants to achieve its objectives — generates deep discomfort in New Delhi.

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This story is reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy

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