How does India’s choices on the Ukraine crisis affect it?

  • IASbaba
  • April 3, 2022
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(ORF: Riasina Debates)

March 24: How does India’s choices on the Ukraine crisis affect it? – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/how-does-indias-choices-on-the-ukraine-crisis-affect-it/ 


  • GS-2: International relations

How does India’s choices on the Ukraine crisis affect it?

Context: India would have been at the receiving end of disapprovals no matter which side it took. Today’s India has greater agency in shaping diplomacy around crises, unlike in the past. With an economy half the size of India’s, it would have been difficult for Russia to ignore India’s demand for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate its civilians. Russia heeded to India’s demands and helped repatriate about 22,500 citizens (24 percent of Ukraine’s international students are Indians). The world quietly acknowledged the realism underlying India’s diplomatic and logistical response to the crisis. Now that the students have safely repatriated, this phase of Indian diplomacy has run its course.

Shift in Diplomatic Stand

  • India couldn’t have tilted towards both parties at the same time, thus it aimed to remain neutral.
  • India had earlier called for a “dialogue,” “cessation of violence,” and “safety” and “safe exit and return” of Indian nationals. Following that, India shifted its position, making references to the “UN Charter,” “international law,” and “sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”
  • Even as it tilted a little towards Ukraine, India still won Russia’s approval of its “independent” position, while also securing the US’ acknowledgement as it referred to India’s relationship with Russia as “distinct” and “okay”.

Does the Ukraine war complicates India’s ties with Russia?

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, between 2017–2021, Russia’s share of India’s defence imports was 46 percent and India received 28 percent of Russia’s defence exports. Even without sanctions, Russia will divert arms from exports to the Ukraine war, making it harder for India to procure Russian equipment. 

  • To meet shortages, Russia has asked China for military equipment. If Russia’s military supplies and technology transfers to India were halted without matching supplies from the West, the putative coalition to balance China will be put in jeopardy.
  • During 1971, the Soviets acted on their own interests, not India’s, and initially didn’t support India going to war with Pakistan. Former diplomat and author Chandrashekhar Dasgupta said that the Soviets “withheld a positive response to India’s new request for arms till after the Simla Summit” to prevent Indian territorial gains in Kashmir. As Soviet and American interests aligned, India declared a ceasefire after Pakistan’s defeat in the east, ending the war.

India’s offer to mediate and secure a peaceful resolution received American and Ukrainian support, but not Russian, which maintained control over the narrative. In welcoming India’s stand, Moscow merely made a statement. 

USA’s Stand

  • The US imposing sanctions on Russia will disrupt Russia’s defence supplies to India. Sanctions could jeopardise exports of S-400 missiles, leasing of Akula class submarines, manufacturing of A-203 rifles, and exports of the BrahMos missile by India.
  • From next to nothing in 2008, the US defence exports to India rose to US$ 15 billion in 2019. 
  • Between 2017-2021 the US is the third largest defence supplier to India, with 12 percent of market share. 
  • Furthermore, ruthless enforcement of sanctions will increase Russian dependence on China, weakening the US’ relationships with Russia and India.

China could come out on top

Europe and the Indo-Pacific are now a single strategic system joined by the actions of Putin and Xi.

  • The shift in the US focus to Europe away from the Indo-Pacific is perilous for an India that is facing China. 
  • Weakening Russia undermines the US’s Indo- Pacific strategy. How does sanctioning Russia’s S-400 missile help India deter China? Beijing could launch provocations in the South China Sea or even along the line of actual control with India.

In their joint statement of 4 February, China and Russia have resolved to resist “attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions,” meaning Taiwan and Ukraine. 

  • Moscow’s economic dependence on China undermines the multipolarity India seeks. 


India needs to introspect on strategy and means, and must make a move of high deterrence value. 

Can you answer the following question?

  1. What are the consequences of India’s “balancing act” on the Russia-Ukraine war and its impact on India’s security and geopolitical interests with regard to China?

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