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Ukraine: India Refuses To Toe US Line

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
April 16, 2022 10:51 IST
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The Americans have expended a lot of diplomatic energy to coax India into toeing their line, but India has refused to buckle under pressure.
As Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said, India has not taken anyone's side but its own side, points out Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: A torn Ukrainian flag hangs on a wire at an apartment building which was destroyed in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 14, 2022. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/ReutersPress Information Bureau
 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has tested the tenacity of the Indian foreign policy establishment. And it has come out with flying colours.

Doing a fine balancing act protecting, above all else, the Indian interest rather than that of Russia or America, while the rival powers are arrayed against each other with Ukraine serving as a deadly playing ground.

Resisting pressure from the US and others in its corner, India has adroitly steered clear of either bloc, abstaining multiple times from the vote on the Russian aggression in the UN while pointedly asserting that the breach of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation was wrong and must cease forthwith.

Here it must be mentioned that the Indian stand was finely nuanced, and notably different from that of China.

China did not rebuke Russia for the aggression while it also voted 'against' the resolution which condemned the aggression.

On several other occasions since February 24 when Russia first invaded Ukraine, China voted with Russia, and against the US-sponsored resolutions seeking to put Russia in the dock.

What is creditworthy is that the Americans have expended a lot of diplomatic energy to coax India into toeing their line, but India has refused to buckle under pressure.

As Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said, India has not taken anyone's side but its own side.

It is this independence which caused President Biden, no less, to term India's stand 'somewhat shaky.'

Taking the cue from Biden, American diplomats have tried to browbeat India, but to no avail.

In fact, one such mid-level diplomat, US Assistant Secretary of State Dalip Singh, came calling the other day, believing he could dictate to India.

His manner was brusque, and far from diplomatic. He publicly threatened that there could be 'costs' if India did not fall in line. Fall in line it did not.

India was too big and too proud to do the bidding of any nation, howsoever powerful it may be.

Besides, why should Dalip Singh arrogate to himself the power to frame India's policy?

Do his Indian origins impel him to be harsh on his mother country in order for him to burnish his American credentials?

Or is it that the Americans still suffer from the Cold War hangover when they perceived anyone not part of their bloc to be necessarily suspect, and a member of the rival Soviet bloc?

The Ukraine crisis may have also helped clear a misconception in some quarters that India was now smack in the American camp.

Such talk had gained ground further, especially after India joined the Quad along with the US, Australia and Japan to protect the maritime rights of nations in the Indo-Pacific against China's increasing intransigence.

India showed that membership of the Quad, or any other such forum meant to safeguard legitimate rights of free nations against an increasingly belligerent China does in no way compromise her independence to take a stand best suited to its own interests.

Remember that India still sources nearly half of its military ware from Russia, the successor State of the Soviet Union.

Despite growing pressure, India has refused to stop buying oil from Russia.

In fact, it has stepped up import from Russia given the latter's offer to buy it at about a 25-30 percent discount to the prevailing global market rates after the US-led sanctions.

At least 25 percent of Europe's oil and gas comes from Russia, with Germany importing nearly half of its total oil and gas from Russia.

Remarkably, the daily bill for European imports of Russian oil totals over a billion dollars.

Such then is the US hypocrisy that it has the gumption to ask India to stop import, albeit a far smaller quantity, of oil from Russia.

IMAGE: The Kharkiv regional state administration building, devastated by Russian shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second biggest city. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

It is the rejection of the American pressure that drew the support of all parties in the Lok Sabha. (Which, incidentally, the beleaguered Imran Khan had in mind while praising India for standing up to America.)

While debating the country's stand on the Ukraine war, members cutting across all parties endorsed government stand.

Indeed, at a time when the ruling dispensation had declared an open season on Nehru, criticising him for various ills afflicting the nation, Congress members got an opportunity to praise the first prime minister, arguing that his non-alignment policy had served the country well.

Anyway, it was reassuring to note that despite bitter differences, the ruling and Opposition parties were capable of joining hands in defending the national interest.

Meanwhile, Putin's war against Ukraine is going horribly wrong.

Despite its far superior war machine, Ukraine has defended itself bravely, inflicting huge human and material costs on the invaders, a fact grudgingly acknowledged by Moscow.

Putin probably believed that like in 2014 when it had virtually annexed Crimea without much resistance, this time too it would be a cakewalk into the former Soviet republic.

It was not. In the intervening period, Ukraine had acquired modern arms and ammunitions and trained its army into a supple fighting unit.

No wonder after laying siege to Kyiv, the Ukraine capital, for weeks Russians beat a humiliating retreat, losing hundreds of men and tanks and armoured vehicles.

The upshot of the aggression is that Putin is now an international pariah, with no nation ready to do business with him.

Even China is afraid to defy sanctions for fear of being cut off from global markets.

Besides, the aggression has acted as a glue for the fraying European Union, forcing even Germany to increase its military spending.

Only a few years ago President Trump had threatened to pull America out of NATO.

Thanks to Putin's self-goal, NATO is now stronger than at any time since the Second War, with all member-States undertaking to contribute higher budgets for upgrading their defences.

Besides, Putin has succeeded in restoring America's primacy in global affairs months after it had suffered a humiliating setback in Afghanistan.

President Biden whose domestic ratings were at a record low has seized the Russian aggression to snatch leadership of the Western world, aggressively penalising Russia for its armed misadventure.

What is more, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose popularity ratings were dismal before the war, has now emerged as a great war-time leader of his country, being hailed universally for standing up to a far stronger autocrat.

IMAGE: A view of a destroyed Russian tank in Dmytrivka village. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

The aggression is still not over. The Russians are regrouping, most probably preparing to annex the south eastern part of Ukraine with the objective of hiving off a whole swathe of the Black Sea coast to link it with Crimea which was annexed in 2014.

It will not be a cakewalk, especially with the US and Europeans stepping up supplies of sophisticated weapons to Ukraine to repulse the demoralised aggressor whose young soldiers remain clueless why they are fighting fellow Slavs with whom they have had centuries-old ties.

Clearly, Putin's hubris has inflicted huge human and economic costs on ordinary Russians while the war-ravaged Ukraine is bound to rise from the ashes thanks to a very generous assistance from the West.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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