When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Vladimir Putin that today’s era is not one of war last month, the West took his comments as a sign that the world’s largest democracy was finally breaking away from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron praised Modi and the White House hailed what it called a statement of principle.
But the reality, analysts say, is less simple.
Rather than cutting economic ties with the Kremlin, India undermined Western sanctions by increasing its purchases of Russian oil, coal and fertilizer, giving Putin a vital financial lifeline.
New Delhi has repeatedly abstained from votes condemning Russia at the United Nations, giving Moscow a veneer of international legitimacy. And in August, India took part in Russia’s large-scale Vostok military exercises alongside China, Belarus, Mongolia and Tajikistan, where Moscow paraded its vast arsenal.
India last week abstained from another UN draft resolution condemning Russia for its sham referendums in four regions of Ukraine, which served as a pretext for Moscow to illegally annex Ukrainian territory. , greatly raising the stakes of the war.
India is deeply troubled by the developments in Ukraine, said Ruchira Kamboj, New Delhi’s permanent representative to the UN, but refrained from assigning blame and called for an immediate ceasefire and to the resolution of the conflict.
This apparent contradiction illustrates India’s unique position on the war: verbally distancing itself from Russia, while continuing to maintain essential ties with Moscow.
Modis’ stronger language towards Putin must be seen in the context of rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices, and the difficulties it was creating for other countries, said research professor and director Deepa Ollapally. of the Rising Powers Initiative at the Elliott School of International Affairs. , George Washington University.
There is a certain level of impatience (for India) with the escalation of the war, she says. There is a feeling that Putin is pushing the boundaries of India because in some ways he is putting himself in danger. And this is not a comfortable position for India.
As Russian troops massed at the Ukrainian border in December last year, Modi hosted Putin in New Delhi for the 21st annual India-Russia summit.
My dear friend, President Vladimir Putin, said Modi, your attachment to India and your personal commitment symbolizes the importance of Indo-Russian relations and I am very grateful to you.
New Delhi has had close ties with Moscow since the Cold War, and India remains heavily dependent on the Kremlin for military equipment, a vital link given India’s ongoing tensions on its common Himalayan border with an increasingly China. more assertive.
But analysts say India fears Putin’s growing isolation could push Moscow closer to Beijing, prompting India to tread carefully.
New Delhi’s warped maneuver in its stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine was on full display when, alongside China, it took part in Russia’s Vostok military drills, a move under attack from its Western partners.
It can be seen as a tale of two indies, Ollapally said. On the one hand, they push back against China and then exercise with China and Russia, giving Russia some legitimacy.
Superficially at least, India and China also seem to have similar positions on the war in Ukraine. The two positioned themselves as neutral spectators rather than vocal adversaries. Both also called for peace but refused to condemn the invasion outright.
But that’s where the similarities seem to end, analysts say.
China has denounced Western sanctions and repeatedly blamed the United States and NATO for the conflict, echoing Russia’s view that NATO precipitated the crisis by expanding eastward. Chinese state media has also amplified Russian talking points and disinformation. India, on the other hand, has avoided criticizing NATO and has used stronger language to call for peace as the war escalates.
But despite India’s growing closeness to the West, it is prioritizing dangers in its own backyard, analysts say.
China remains the big threat on India’s borders and India would not want the Russian-Chinese alliance to become very strong, said Sushant Singh, senior fellow at the New Delhis Center for Policy Research. It is not in India’s interest.
US President Joe Biden has, since the start of Russian aggression, used Putin’s war to bolster his global campaign for democracy.
Ukraine and its people are on the front line to save their nation, he said during a speech in March. And their courageous resistance is part of a larger fight for essential democratic principles that unite all free people.
While New Delhi’s ties to the West have grown ever closer since Modis was elected in 2014, India, the world’s largest democracy with 1.3 billion people, does not think like United States.
For years after independence, India’s international relations were defined by its policy of non-alignment, the Cold War-era stance that avoided siding with the United States or the Soviet Union.
Despite India’s contemporary alliance with the West and pressure from the United States to take a tougher stance, this policy continues to unfold, analysts say.
And according to Singh, India’s actions were to protect its own interests.
Speaking on the sidelines during a face-to-face meeting with Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit last month, Modi said the world faced challenges including food and energy shortages, which particularly affected developing countries.
I know that the era of today is not one of war and we have spoken to you on the phone several times about the fact that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue are all those things that affect the world, a Modi told Putin.
And under the Modis government, which has been decried for its crackdown on free speech and discriminatory policies against minority groups, India risks being branded a hypocrite for it, according to Singh.
India has been very hesitant to raise questions about democracy because it has been repeatedly denounced for its authoritarian nature and undemocratic acts against religious minorities, Singh said.
But while Ollapally said what India was doing was understandable as a developing country, New Delhi could do more to uphold the democratic principles set out in the preamble to the country’s constitution.
I think there’s definitely more that (India) could do on that front, at least in their statements, because they really don’t have much to lose by making those statements, she said. .
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