Explained: India’s tightrope walk between the West and Russia

  • Gs 2, 3, International Relations, Foreign Policy


  • India is embroiled in a diplomatic impasse with major strategic allies on both sides of the border. On Thursday, Prime Minister Modi convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to assess the current situation.

Insights & Background:

  • In the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to call for a “immediate cessation of violence” in a phone call on Thursday. He also called for a concerted effort from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue.
  • According to the PMO, he stated his “long-standing opinion that the disagreements between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved by honest and sincere communication,” which is the only way for the issues to be overcome.
  • While calling for a “immediate suspension of violence,” this was a delicate balancing effort that the Western Bloc would welcome.
  • India is embroiled in a diplomatic impasse with major strategic allies on both sides of the border. On Thursday, Prime Minister Modi convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to assess the current situation.
  • Earlier in the day, India voiced “regret” – a step up from its previous expression of “worry” – but did not express outright disapproval for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, called External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to express their appreciation for his work.
  • On November 8, diplomats from the G7 nations (Canada; France; Germany; Italy; Japan; the United Kingdom; and the United States) and Ukraine gathered in Delhi to show their support in the face of what they described as “Russia’s unacceptable military attack.”
  • With increasing pressure from the western bloc, led by the United States, New Delhi is being put to the test of making a strategic decision — between ideals and values on the one hand, and pragmatism and interests on the other.

Statement at UNSC

  • “The UN Security Council had convened two days before and examined the issue,” India stated in a statement to the United Nations Security Council, which was held in an emergency meeting.
  • The United Nations has urged for an immediate de-escalation of tensions and highlighted the importance of persistent and targeted diplomacy in order to resolve all concerns pertaining to the situation.”
  • However, we regret that the international community’s demands to give time to the recent steps undertaken by parties to reduce tensions have not been heeded,” India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, T S Tirumurti, said at the meeting.
  • An escalation of the situation is on the verge of becoming a big crisis. We express our great worry about the events, which, if they are not handled with care, have the potential to jeopardise the peace and security of the area.” He asked for a “immediate de-escalation of the crisis” as well as a “refrain from taking any additional action that might contribute to the deterioration of the situation.”
  • The remainder of his message was devoted to arguing for diplomatic solutions. Due to the fact that India highlights the subject of “territorial integrity and sovereignty” in relation to China, the West interprets this as a tacit endorsement of Russia’s activities as well as a case of double standards.
  • Earlier this week, India did not denounce Russia’s recognition of the rebel territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, despite international condemnation.

Partners on both sides

  • While there is anxiety about Russia’s “muscle-flexing,” New Delhi does not want to jeopardise the close military connections it has with the Russian Federation by doing so. Despite the fact that India has broadened the scope of its new acquisitions to include other countries, Russia continues to provide over 60-70 percent of the country’s military supplies.
  • India and Russia have had a long-standing friendship that dates back seven decades. Despite the fact that the relationship has stalled in some areas and atrophied in others, the defence basket remains the relationship’s most important component.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only met with the presidents of two nations — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping — in informal meetings.
  • Particularly at a time when Indian and Chinese forces are still engaged in a border standoff, India cannot afford to offend Russia. In the midst of the conflict, Russia has emerged as a crucial diplomatic role. In the last year and a half, the Indian External Affairs and Defence Ministers have met with their Chinese counterparts in Russia. Russia plays an important role in India’s activities in Afghanistan as well.
  • The importance of India’s connections with the West, led by the United States, cannot be overstated. Many American platforms have been employed for observation and surveillance operations along the India-China border in recent years. Cold-weather gear for 50,000 soldiers has been procured from these western key allies.

Axis between Russia and China

  • India, like many other countries, is concerned about the Russia-China axis. In order to defend against threats from China and Pakistan, the United States has purchased an S-400 air defence system from Russia.
  • Additionally, India is cognizant that the escalation of hostilities between the West and Russia is likely to push Moscow even further toward the Chinese capital.
  • The West’s stance to Russia following the invasion of Crimea in 2014 drew Moscow closer to Beijing, and India has long believed that it was the West’s policies that brought about this convergence. The possibility of a Sino-Russian quasi-alliance has arisen as a result of anti-Chinese rhetoric from the United States, the drop of oil prices, and Russia’s increasing reliance on Chinese consumption.
  • When it comes to matters that China is concerned about, such as Huawei’s 5G expansion, Hong Kong, and Covid-19, Russia has been measured in its views. Beijing and Moscow, on the other hand, are not always on the same page with one another. China does not recognise Crimea as being a part of Russia, and Moscow, strictly speaking, takes a neutral stance on Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, according to the United Nations.

Indians in Ukraine

  • Another source of worry for New Delhi is the Indian population in Ukraine, which is primarily comprised of medical students. It has been announced that the Indian Embassy in Kyiv is gathering information on the students as part of preparations for possible hostilities.
  • According to government estimates, over 16,000 Indian nationals are still in Ukraine — just about 4,000 students have been permitted to depart in the previous few weeks, according to the administration.
  • The government is attempting to assist many of them in fleeing across land borders in neighbouring countries like as Poland, Romania, Hungary, and the Slovak Republic, where they are being held.
  • To summarise, there is a discussion inside the Indian elite over which path to take — principles and ideals on the one hand, and pragmatism and interests on the other — and which path to take is the best.
  • A difficult strategic option must be made by India when a new battle in the twenty-first century breaks out in the region.


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