Ukraine: A Lab of the Contesting Hegemonies and India

The post-cold war period also witnessed the decline in US hegemony and the strengthening of Germany and Russia in Europe and the rise of China and India from Asia. The failure of US in world politics in the last two decades forced Donald Trump to boast of his sole presidential term that stopped the “Greater Denmark” (as sarcastically referred to Russia by Bush) from accentuating its border activities against the states of Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine. From July 3, 1988, when a US missile hit accidentally an Iranian plane killing 290 civilian passengers and the irresponsible statement of US president that ‘he doesn’t care what the facts are’, to the Joe Biden’s pledge to reinvigorate US position in the world politics, much water has flown down. A new world has risen, new realties mark the world today and most importantly a power shift is taking place at the worldscapes. President Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump, and now Biden have been faced with a tough ordeal at home and outside. The anti-immigrant movements, American first, black lives matter and restoring the past glory, all are the new words and phrases of American English. What US have lost could be seen from its role in Brexit, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Korea, and now in Ukraine. 

It was in this context that Joe Biden remarked that “As I said in my inaugural address, we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s.  American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy…America must lead in the face of this existential threat.  And just as with the pandemic, it requires global cooperation ( The words imply a process of repairing and regaining the old positions by US vis a vis China and Russia. The ‘new rise’ doesn’t suit US position as it challenges its traditional clout and this irks US. In the quest to regain what it has lost, it would break its past commitments of not expanding NATO by trying to include Ukraine and threaten the security of Moscow, that has the burden of controlling and protecting the world’s largest territories from the east to west. And herein lies the root behind the current crisis. The 5 billion $ trade between US and Ukraine, the important oil resources at Crimea and the Nord-Stream line that challenges US market are the chief propellers that ignited the war.

The Indian Perspective of the Aggression

India has condemned the aggression and Prime Minister Modi’s talk to the Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 24, 2022 and appeal for an “immediate cessation of violence” unravels its limitations of taking an open stand against the aggression. Therefore, he suggested a solution by negotiations and urged all the sides for concerted efforts to dilute the situation and ensure the path of a diplomatic solution through dialogue. While expressing the view that the differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue he made it clear that India is uncomfortable in taking sides against Russia. US have also been guilty of excluding Russia in the post-cold war era from a democratic Europe and expanding NATO to its doorsteps, thus creating security concerns for it.

Indian stand on the issue is quite sagacious and balanced as it has to keep the warmth of traditional strategic relations with Russia alive and also placate the wrath of the West, especially the US and Europe by keeping absent from the Security Council and UN General Assembly voting. The rationale behind Indian absence is an honour to the support, both material and diplomatic, that India has always received from former Soviet Union and now Russia over the issues of Kashmir, 1971 war, nuclear tests and terrorism. Besides this Russia is, even today, the largest arms supplier of India (about 65 p.c.) and Indian defence material largely of Russian origins, the maintenance and supply of spares parts of which is largely dependent on Russia. Against it Ukraine has always voted against India on Kashmir and nuclear issues and supplied arms to Pakistan that worried India.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Russia is the largest supplier of defence equipment to India, commanding nearly two-thirds share of the latter’s total arms imports. Indian Army’s ‘Main Battle Tank’ (MBT) force comprises predominantly of Russian T-72M1 and T-90S tanks. Indian Navy’s sole operational aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is a refurbished Soviet-era ship and its fighter fleet comprises of 43 MiG-29K. Of the 10 guided-missile destroyers, four are Russian Kashin class and six of its 17 frigates are Russian Talwar class. Indian Navy’s sole nuclear-powered submarine is on lease from Russia; besides eight of the 14 other submarines are of Russian origin-Kilo Class. The Indian Air Force 667 FGA (Fighter Ground Attack) fleet is 71 percent of Russian-origin. All the six air refuelling tankers are Russian-made Il-78 (Dwivedi 2022). The two states have been working on several joint projects and missile systems that restrict a strong Indian condemnation.  As per Indian figures, bilateral trade during April 2020-March 2021 amounted USD 8.1 billion. Indian exports amounted USD 2.6 billion while imports from Russia amounted USD 5.48 billion. For the same period, as per Russian figures, bilateral trade amounted to USD 9.31 billion, with Indian exports amounting to USD 3.48 billion and imports amounting to USD 5.83 billion (Indian Embassy). Therefore, India has a strong hiccup against an all out criticism of the aggression nor should it do.

Russo-Chinese Axis

The major development of 21st century is the growing proximity between Russia and China. Russia that used to sell its best arms to India sells it to China now. This is primarily due to growing Russian dependence on China. India’s recent purchase of the S-400 air defence system from Russia was preceded by Chinese purchase of the same. Russia has also committed to China the sale of its new S 500 system before India that shows its changed preferences. In the mean time the Nord-Stream pipeline from Russia that lowers US gas rates in Europe and Crimean occupation by Russia has turned the West hostile against it and pushed it more towards China, another anti-West entity that challenges US dominance. In this backdrop Russia has calibrated its views against the Beijing in case of Covid 19 pandemic, Huawei’s 5G rollout and the state repression in Hong Kong. Even though, the two states refrain from passing recognition to each other’s expected recognition on Crimean occupation and South China Sea. The anti-Indian Pakistan has always tried to encash the differences of India with Russia and China but of no avail. Imran Khan’s presence undiplomatic utterance at Moscow during the aggression speaks of the poor conduct of foreign policy and diplomatic thinking.

The Dehyphenisation of East and West in India’s Foreign Policy

What is visible from the current Indian approach towards war is that Indian Foreign Policy has “Dehyphenated its Eastern and Western Yards” of operation. Amidst tremendous pressure from United States and European Union members and request by Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy India has refrained from a direct participation in UN resolutions against Russia. This implies dangers for the prospects of Indian position in QUAD and Indo-Pacific. It also weakens Indian position against the current border deadlock, especially in view of the Beijing-Islamabad colluding. India can expect Russian support in the future but will an economically emaciated Russia be able to help India is a big question. Therefore, India has to wade through carefully balancing its position in the East and the West and should come forward to alleviate the warring parties and bring them to the negotiation table.

Prof. Harish K. Thakur
Prof. Harish K. Thakur
Department of Political Science HP University, Shimla, 171005