22 September 2022 Author: Deepa M Ollapally, GWU
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coincided with a debate over whether to call US–China tensions ‘a new Cold War’ and a ‘no limits’ friendship between Russia and China. As the United States raced to place sanctions on Moscow, many in the Global South found themselves caught in the crosshairs of a realignment against Russia.
Among the non-committed, India is the largest democracy to strike its own path.
Russia has been one of India’s most steadfast diplomatic and defence partners and a weakened Russia would negate India’s preference for a multipolar global order in which it is an independent and influential pole. Washington’s tendency to group China and Russia as an ‘authoritarian axis’ that threatens the global order is not something to which India subscribes. India sees Russia as a close friend and China as an adversary, while the United States is hostile to both countries.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, the contradiction between India and the United States is playing out openly. India and China have been more aligned on UN votes, with India abstaining on 11 UN votes to condemn Russia, withstanding intense pressure from its closest Western partners as well as unflattering international media and public opinion.
India could not be persuaded to join the US-led economic sanctions against Russia as it is generally against unilateral sanctions levied outside the United Nations. New Delhi’s decision to accept Russia’s offer of deeply discounted oil is not entirely surprising, though Western officials and commentators have accused India of taking ‘sweet deals’ from an otherwise diplomatically isolated Russia and indirectly funding Putin’s war machine.
The West’s pressure on India went from pure money to values by characterising the conflict as between authoritarianism and democracy. In a much-watched interaction between visiting British Foreign Minster Liz Truss and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Truss took a swipe at India’s neutral stance, stating that ‘it’s vitally important for freedom and democracy in Europe, that we challenge Putin, and we ensure that he loses in Ukraine’.
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