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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On March 6, 2022

    By Karan Thapar

    When a situation is not clear but you can sense the implications and dangers, it’s more important to raise the correct questions than be certain of their answers. I believe what the crisis in Ukraine means for India is one such. Here’s a list of thirteen questions that explore the problem we face. They could help you understand why a crisis in Europe is a serious predicament for us.


    1)       On the one hand, India has historically close relations with Russia and 60-70% of our defence equipment comes from Russia. On the other hand, in the last 20 years, India’s relationship with the United States has transformed. We are members of the Quad and share a common vision for the Indo-Pacific. So when both want our clear-cut support for their stand over the Ukraine are we getting torn apart?


    2)       Let’s start with India’s response. We are proud of being the world’s biggest democracy and we stand for a rules-based international order. Have we, therefore, damaged our image by refusing to criticise the Russian invasion of a sovereign country and by abstaining at the Security Council?


    3)       Whilst Russia has expressed appreciation of India’s stand at the UN, President Biden has publicly indicated there are unresolved differences with India. Clearly this has introduced a strain in Indo-US relations. How worrying is that?


    4)       Let me go a step further. India is the only Quad country that has not sharply and publicly criticised Russia. So are there now serious differences of perception within the Quad? Is it weaker and less united as a result?


    5)       The problem for India could become more difficult depending on how the crisis in Ukraine might develop. Not only has Russia divided the Ukraine by effectively taking over the Donbas region but the popularly elected Zelensky government is likely be toppled and a pro-Russian puppet regime put in its place. Russia will expect Indian support and, difficult though that may be, whilst we have a very tense and unpredictable situation on our border with China will we have to abstain again?


    6)       Does this mean the Chinese problem and India’s dependence on Russian military equipment has substantially tied our hands?


    7)       Now, if India continues to abstain and not criticise Russia, even after the Ukraine has been ‘gobbled up’, what sort of relationship will we have left with America? For, instance, will we get a waiver under CAATSA for the S-400?


    8)       Let’s look further down the road. Russia’s dependence on China, already undeniable, is likely to increase very significantly. Since most of the Russian military equipment we get is targeted against China or its close ally Pakistan won’t Moscow be under pressure from Beijing to stop?



    9)       In fact, the tougher the sanctions the West imposes on Russia the greater will be Russia’s dependence on Beijing and, therefore, the stronger Chinese-Russian partnership. Could that lead to changes in Russia’s stand on the India-China problem and even, possibly, the India-Pakistan problem?


    10)     Writing in The Tribune former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran goes a step further: “The nightmare scenario for India would be if the US comes to the conclusion that it confronts a greater threat from Russia and that this justifies a strategic accommodation with China. In blunt terms, concede Chinese dominance in Asia while safeguarding its European flank.” How likely is this?


    11)     If this nightmare happens, does it mean India will be on its own facing China, with a hostile Pakistan to our west and neither America nor Russia with us politically?


    12)     So, there’s no doubt we’re walking a very difficult tight rope but how long can we continue? If we have to come down on one or other side which should it be?


    13)     Given India’s need for economic investment and technology but also our commitment to democracy and a rules-based international order and the fact the problem with China is not going away, is America the better friend for the future?

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