How India broke up with Russia over the Ukraine issue

G-20 summit reveals: India has moved closer to the West. However, it will not completely give up on its long-term partner, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Narendra Modi in a meeting in 2021.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Last week, the world’s powerful met at the G-20 summit in Bali, and at the end of this summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was able to take over symbolically: the presidents opened and closed the conference with a hammer. blow. India will chair the G-20 next year.

What happened in the hours leading up to it is remarkable: The summit finally released a statement in which “the majority of the participants” condemned the Russian war in Ukraine and called on Russia to withdraw unconditionally.

It was a surprisingly harsh formulation that was also agreed upon by two of Russia’s allies, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Modi. India has thus distanced itself from Moscow on the issue of Ukraine.

India and Russia have been allies for a long time.

In the months after the Russian invasion, the Modi government initially behaved opportunistically: India did not condemn the Russian invasion and only issued vague statements calling for peace. Relations between Russia and India have grown historically.

States are long-standing allies on the international stage. With its veto in the Security Council, Russia prevented the international community from interfering in South Asia, for example, when India invaded East Pakistan in 1971. India, for its part, defended the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but also the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Indian troops stand guard at a crossroads after taking the eastern Pakistani town of Jessore in December 1971. At the time, Russia prevented the international community from getting involved in the conflict after India invaded East Pakistan.

Indian troops stand guard at a crossroads after taking the eastern Pakistani town of Jessore in December 1971. At the time, Russia prevented the international community from getting involved in the conflict after India invaded East Pakistan.

access point

Russia and India are also linked militarily and economically, because a large part of the Indian arms arsenal is of Russian design; according to estimates, it is 70 to 85 percent. After invading the Ukraine, India also bought cheap Russian oil.

The differences between India and Russia on the Ukraine issue did not first come to light at the G-20 summit. For months, Western diplomats in Delhi have been trying to influence India and get a clear government commitment to the Ukraine war. India is working more and more closely with the West on security. It is part of the Quad with Japan, Australia and the US, a security dialogue launched in response to Chinese ambitions in the region.

In September, Modi opposed Vladimir Putin for the first time on the Ukraine issue. The two met at a summit in Uzbekistan for personal talks, the exchange taking place in front of cameras. Modi seized the moment to tell Putin that it was not time for war: “I know that our era is not the era of war, I told you on the phone.”

Putin must have been surprised by the ally’s public rebuke, or at least not pleased. He pursed his lips before replying that he was aware of Modi’s concerns and that he was doing everything possible to end the conflict as soon as possible.

Concern over the cost of the war in Ukraine

“This is not the age of war”: almost the same words can be found in the G-20 statement against Russian aggression. The Indian media take this as an indication that Modi had a strong influence on the statement. It is not clear if the wording was what India wanted. However, it allows Modi to once again present himself to the Indian public as a strong man, one who is listened to by world leaders.

Harsh V. Pant, a foreign policy expert with the Indian think tank ORF, said on his podcast after the Putin-Modi meeting in September that he did not believe India had fundamentally changed its position towards Russia, “but India is concerned about the costs of this war”. The emerging country of India relies on a stable international environment for economic advancement, which was affected first by Covid and then by the Ukraine war.

It is not the case that India would alienate Russia, its long-term partner. Indian and Russian diplomats met in Delhi shortly after the G-20 summit. In December, India will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council for a month. Russian and Indian diplomats decided to increase their cooperation in the Security Council.

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