Russia-Ukraine Conflict and International Developments: An Indian Perspective
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

(This is an updated version of the presentation made at an international conference organised by National Institute of International Strategy, CASS, Beijing on “Russia-Ukraine Conflict and International Developments” on 26 July 2022)

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has now in its sixth month and there appears to be a great deal of uncertainty as to when will it end. There is also a view that war has entered a dangerous phase with the conflict becoming a war of attrition. In fact it is a war between NATO and Russia with Ukraine becoming only a proxy. The narrative or rhetoric that is emerging from the West and the US is largely directed against President Putin and strategic defeat of Russia; Americans are especially obsessed with Putin. Of course there is an information war/campaign going on wherein stories of Putin’s illness or Russia’s weakness etc are being spread but what is the extent of credibility is of such stories is not known in fact, they seem unconvincing. However, overall aim of the US/NATO is to push Russia back to its pre-2014 borders. But is that a realistic aim to be achieved?

The US and NATO countries have been allotting large amount of funds for the war effort and also sending weaponry to Ukraine. NATO does not want to get involved directly in the war and it is also being said that the US ‘will fight the Russians to the last Ukrainian’.

It is also worth noting that on 29th March there was a meeting at Istanbul for arriving at some kind of peace treaty/solution on the ongoing conflict. Turkish President had felicitated the negotiations and called for an immediate ceasefire; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had expressed his willingness to discuss some of Russia’s demands like declaring neutrality, not joining NATO, and renounce developing its own nuclear weapons.

Russia on its part was willing to allow Ukraine to join EU as long there was no military alignment, as also Moscow was no longer keen to push for “de-Nazifying” etc. Evidently, there was no breakthrough possibly because of lack of any positive push by the US and the EU. Further, the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, had said sometime before the talks that the “main goal” was now the “liberation” of Donbas.

There are different voices among the EU countries on prosecution of war and on sanctions imposed against Russia. The Ukraine conflict is testing the unity of the EU as a cohesive entity and more the war gets prolonged more the EU countries will have to bear pain for a longer duration; it will test the degree of endurance of such countries can come up with.

Differences between Germany and its NATO allies have cropped up on Berlin’s failure to replace the Soviet era tanks of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Greece which they were sending to Ukraine; however these deals have not so far been completed. Thus these countries feel let down (i.e. non-receipt of Leopard 2 tanks); there is also the case with German older Mander ICVs which Berlin wants to send instead of new ones. Germany’s Defence Minister Christine Lambert has been saying that their army's inventory is exhausted; all these events have led to growing acrimony between the EU/NATO partners.

Then there is the question of imposing of sanctions against Russia; are these sanctions hurting Russia or the EU countries more? In fact these sanctions are impacting almost all the countries in the world to a greater or lesser degree. Food security, energy security and financial security have all been impacted. The grain supplies from Ukraine and Russia to a number of importing countries have been adversely impacted because of the conflict and sanctions imposed on Russia. However, on July 22 a deal between Russia and Ukraine representatives was signed to unblock grain exports from Black Sea. UN and Turkey were also involved or rather they were the brokers. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s Special Military Operations in the country and naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some grain is being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the nearly five-month war.

A day after the deal Odessa port was hit by missiles which were said to have been fired by Russia though Kremlin initially denied the same but later said that it was against military targets-some naval boat etc. However, Ukraine said that missiles did not cause damage to the infrastructure for grain export and such exports will not be affected.

In so far as energy imports are concerned the EU countries are the worst affected countries as large amounts of gas are imported from Russia by them. The Nord Stream pipeline that ferries gas from Siberia to Germany closed July 11 for annual maintenance was expected to last 10 days. There was some apprehension that Moscow might prolong the closure, possibly permanently, and deprive Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, of a key ingredient for its and its neighbours’ factories. European leaders blamed Moscow for using gas as a weapon when flows along the pipeline began to ebb last month. Moscow blamed that shortfall on technical issues related to Western sanctions. Complicating the calculus, officials and executives say it might not be easy to determine whether Russia is restoring gas flows fully. Some reports say that (30 to 40 %) has been restored; for supplying more Russia has cited technical problems linked to the sanctions. However, by end July it was revealed that only 20 percent of gas supplies have been restored. Germany is highly dependent on Russian gas, and it also acts as a transit hub for gas headed to Austria, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Hungary’s Foreign Minister met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in third week of July to ask for continuation of gas supplies which Lavrov said would be considered favourably. Hungary, member of EU has maintained close relation with Russia. Spain and Portugal are opposed to the EU diktat of reducing gas consumption by 15 percent due to the coming winter. French President Emmanuel Macron has sparked a new wave of criticism over his calls to avoid humiliating Russia in Ukraine, showing up splits in the Western alliance. All this reflects on the divisions in the EU.

Ukraine war has impacted India in many ways both in the field of geopolitics and geo-economics. Despite a recurring pressure and criticism from the US and the western countries India has maintained a neutral stance. It has refrained from joining the others in condemning Russia. India abstained from the US sponsored UNSC resolution that deplored Russian action in Ukraine; similarly it abstained from UNGA that censured its military actions in Ukraine; as also from IAEA resolution relating to safety at nuclear power stations and nuclear waste sites including Chernobyl as Russia gained control over them.

U.S. President Joe Biden said India’s position was “somewhat shaky”. America’s Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics came out with a warning to India of “consequences” if it carried out trade with Russia in violation of the US sanctions. When Russia’s Foreign Minister India in end March the US criticised India; the US Commerce Secretary called reports of (on banking) arrangement with Russia “deeply disappointing”.

Historically, India has attempted to follow a middle path; it did not condemn Soviet intervention in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), or Afghanistan (1979) or even the American invasion of Iraq (2003). As of now though India has good relationship with the US it continues to strive for maintaining its strategic autonomy which in the emerging global strategic dynamics is not an easy task.

India attended the BRICS Summit and the Joint Statement (23 June) came out with a common position on Ukraine inter alia supporting talks between Russia and Ukraine; as also supported the efforts of UN Secretary General, UN Agencies and ICRC to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected people.

However, India’s position on Ukraine is different from China in both context and content. In fact, India’s Foreign Minister in April had articulated that there are unique differences in India’s and China’s approaches to the Ukraine conflict. While both nations had abstained from voting against Russia in the UNSC and UNGA China supported UNSC resolution demanding Russia’s exclusion while India abstained. China has been blaming the US and the west for raising the levels of conflict and imposing of sanctions whereas India has made no such statements. India has put in place its own measures to continue with the trade and not adhere to the western sanctions. The different stance of India’s approach from that of China has found resonance in the US administration.

India has also been importing large quantities of crude oil offered by Russia at discounted prices which has again raised the ire of the US and the western countries. However, during 2+2 dialogue with the US in April, India’s FM countered its criticism by saying that India's total purchases of Russian oil for one month were less than what Europe does in one afternoon. India has been off and on accused by the US and west undermining their sanctions imposed on India.

India has also been affected by the threefold rise in the fertilizer prices and the disruption in logistics supply chains and inflation. While there is a degree of financial and fiscal stability as of now a prolonged conflict would compound a number of problems that were initiated by Covid pandemic and now exacerbated by Ukraine conflict. What India is looking forward to is an early end of hostilities and a breakout of peace so that humanitarian and economic situations can be better addressed.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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