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Preview article description: This post intends to explain the implication of India’s rejection to explicitly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its effect on the Quad partnership.
In the middle of Russia’s outrageous aggression in Ukraine, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted, on March 2nd, a resolution on the immediate end of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. The UNGA firmly stands against Russia’s aggression, demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” While 141 member-states voted in favour, 5 states (including Russia itself) voted against, and 35 states abstained – one of which was India. India had also abstained from voting for the draft resolution under discussion by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on February 25th. The Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, gave explanations for their abstention, one of which states “[d]ialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment”, and underlined that stakeholders must return to “the path of diplomacy” while urging for the suspension of violence and hostilities.
Bonds and Cleavage in Quad
India is a member of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), a maritime cooperation group consisting of three other major states around the Indo-Pacific, including Australia, Japan, and the United States (U.S.). Sharing democratic values and principles, the like-minded allies have been strengthening their partnership and reinforcing their presence in the realm of both regional and international security. Their cooperation is not limited only to maritime security in response to China’s assertive behaviour in the South China Sea, but they are also working on a broader agenda including COVID-19 vaccines, high-standards infrastructure, climate change, humanitarian crises, technological innovations, cybersecurity, and forward-looking outer space regulations and guidelines. However, amid the Russia-Ukraine war, the bonds that the Quad members had been tightening are now beginning to fray.
Leaders of the Quad had an online conference on March 3rd, where Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and U.S. President Joe Biden urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to denounce Russia. As the first three states are imposing hefty sanctions, India’s similar commitment is the key to deterring Russia’s aggression. However, India sticks to the position of preferring “dialogue and diplomacy.” As a result of their difference in responses, the Joint Readout only agreed to set up “a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism[.]”
Why is India avoiding taking sides?
The historical strategic ties between India and Russia are considerably strong. Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership pledges cooperation between both Indian and Russian military and military-technologies. In spite of the fact that India shifted its policies and started to work on diversification of its military supplies portfolio, Russia remains the largest supplier of its military goods. India has procured more than $70 billion worth of Russian weaponry since the mid-1960s. Today, 60% of India’s military hardware inventory is from Russia (or the former Soviet Union). Due to their high dependency on the military supplies provided by Russia, India is now entangled in a tough situation that pits its traditional ally – Russia – against its new allies – Australia, Japan, and the U.S.
In addition to its historical proximity to Russia, India is also considering the welfare and security of Indian citizens stranded in the affected areas. Having a large Indian community in Ukraine, India might be trying not to appear to be stern with the Kremlin. India needs support both from Russia and Ukraine to evacuate all the Indian civilians, and thus it has presumably no choice but to take this unique and opaque position.
Hoping that India Distances Itself from Russia
Aligning with the U.S.-led strict economic sanctions, Japan and Australia have been strengthening their financial pressures on Russia and its backer, Belarus. Meanwhile, India agreed to import three million barrels of oil from Russia. Being tied with harsh international sanctions, Russia is making the most of India’s situation amid the struggles to secure financial sources. Regarding the matter, the White House commented “[s]upport for the Russian leadership is support for an invasion that obviously is having a devastating impact” while shunning mentioning India. Although India’s purchase of Russian oil is not seen as a violation of ongoing sanctions, the continuation of a trade relationship can hinder the Quad from taking substantive collective actions.
On March 19, Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida had an in-person conference with India’s Prime Minister Modi. It was the very first bilateral visit as Prime Minister since Mr. Kishida assumed office in October 2021. As the host country of the upcoming in-person Quad meeting, Mr. Kishida highlighted the need to address Russia’s atrocity dauntlessly, and thus he called India for collaboration, including further pressure on President Putin.
Contemplating “Broader Implications”
In the Quad summits, Indian Prime Minister Modi emphasized “that the Quad must remain focused on its core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.” Indeed, the primary interest of the Quad is the Indo-Pacific area. Nonetheless, its regional security remains highly volatile, and it is not impossible that the current situation in Ukraine spills over into the Indo-Pacific. With their commitment to protect “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states” and engagement in ensuring “countries are free from military, economic, and political coercion” reaffirmed in the Joint Readout, the “broader implications” should be taken into account.
For the time being, Western states understand India’s convoluted circumstances and its position. Against expectations, India may even strengthen its relationship with Russia by expanding trade in the upcoming months. India’s strategic partnership is crucial not only for the Quad, but also the rest of the world who is trying to stop Russia’s ongoing brutal actions in Ukraine and to prevent similar tragedies from occurring elsewhere. Unfortunately, however, whether the Quad can get back on track and exhibit its inherent strength of uniformity is still uncertain.
Ayumi is currently studying MSc Security Studies of Department of Political Science at University College London (UCL). She is interested in politics, international relations, and international security.