India abstained on the resolution condemning Russia in the UN Security Council and also in the General Assembly. With this ambivalent stance, the Indian government is carrying out a complicated foreign policy balancing act. Many found India’s failure and the general remarks about a necessary ceasefire, the call for dialogue and the reference to legitimate interests on all sides as a bitter disappointment.
What motivates the Indian government not to take a stand on the majority of the international community despite Russia’s criminal aggression? In December 2021, the Kremlin rolled the red carpet next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Moscow. The two presidents signed several trade agreements, including agreements on a ten-year cooperation in the arms sector.
What motivates the Indian government not to take a stand on the majority of the international community despite Russia’s criminal aggression?
India has maintained a close relationship with Russia for decades. Its origins go back to the time of Prime Minister Nehru in the 1950s. At that time, the non-aligned India adopted elements of the Soviet planned economy in the search for a so-called “third way”. Economic cooperation helped to create a close network between the two countries. Trade rose. Although India never formally renounced independence and independence in its foreign policy, relations between India and the Soviet Union were close despite existing ideological differences. This traditional adjustment has continued with Russia.
And India not only imported civilian technology. The USSR was and to this day Russia is the largest arms supplier to India. 60 percent of India’s arms imports come from Russia. From state-of-the-art fighter jets to helicopters, from armored personnel carriers to main tanks, from frigates to an aircraft carrier, the Russian defense industry sells everything it has to offer. Recently, the Indian government confirmed that deliveries of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system had begun. Nearly a third of all Russian arms exports in the last decade went to the Indian armed forces, reports the Peace Research Institute SIPRI in Stockholm.
India’s relations with the United States have always been complicated, given the latter’s military support to India’s enemy Pakistan. The Bangladesh war in 1971, the result of an internal crisis in Pakistan, dramatically worsened relations between India and the United States. In response, New Delhi and Moscow signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. This treaty, just below a formal military alliance, was in fact a clear departure from the non-aligned policy that had defined more than two decades of Indian foreign policy.
There is now great nervousness in New Delhi over the proclaimed Russian-Chinese friendship.
The so called “nuclear agreement‘of 2005 between the United States and India, however, enabled a clear rapprochement – which has particularly worried Beijing to this day. This nuclear deal ended a three-decade moratorium on nuclear power trade. From 2005, India gained access to non-military nuclear technology. The United States tacitly tolerated the nuclear weapons program that India was purposefully pushing forward. The U.S. administration under President Bush Jr. saw India as a rising power and a counterweight to China in Asia. India, in turn, is interested in having allies against China.
There is now great nervousness in New Delhi over the proclaimed Russian-Chinese friendship. There are still unresolved territorial conflicts between India and China. These not only led to a war in 1962, but are repeatedly driven by military skirmishes.
Since the mid-2000s, the Indian government has sought to reduce its dependence on Russia in the arms sector and raw materials by diversifying the sources of supply and creating new alliances in security policy. The Government of India is involved in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with Australia, Japan and the United States, particularly in the light of competition with China.
In a balancing act, the Indian government is trying to reconcile the competing interests and create balance in relations with the United States, Russia and China.
India’s balancing act on the international stage, especially in Asia, is extremely fragile. Because India is also a member of the dominated by China Shanghai Cooperation Organization and also in BRICS, the Cooperation Forum for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The BRICS represents 42 percent of the world’s population and was originally intended to create a counterweight to the Western-dominated international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, due to China’s incomparably high economic growth, the BRICS has long since ceased to be a forum among equals.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, India used to stand at a crossroads. At that time, India opened up economically and foreign policy. With Russia’s international isolation, a similar turning point is imminent for India’s foreign relations? In a balancing act, the Indian government is trying to reconcile the competing interests and create balance in relations with the United States, Russia and China. At the same time, India is openly striving for a seat among the superpowers and proclaiming that it is in fact entitled to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
It is still unknown whether Russia will continue to be able to supply India with such a large number of weapons – or whether the Russian armed forces’ own demands are so high, given the war, that supplies to their partner are canceled.
Foreign policy today is characterized by different, sometimes conflicting trends. Geopolitical orientation, emphasis on multilateralism and respect for international law on the one hand and the nationalist policies of the current government on the other, which are not only met with opposition internally from India’s minorities. This leads to some turbulence in international affairs. Former UN Secretary-General Ramesh Thakur does not find India’s current stance on the Russian invasion surprising: “When India was last in the Security Council a decade ago, the vote on the crises in Libya and Syria ranged from yes to no and omissions. Do not be surprised if the same thing happens again. “
India’s extensive, sometimes hectic, rearmament efforts are being carried out primarily with China in mind. By failing to condemn Putin’s war in Ukraine, India has unexpectedly found itself in the same boat as China. It is still unknown whether Russia will be able to continue to supply India with such a large number of weapons – or whether the Russian armed forces’ own demands in light of the war are so high that supplies to their partner are canceled. In any case, India will have to thoroughly review its relations with Russia in the medium term.