But even if we put the moral aspect aside and try to be pragmatic, to regard Russia as a future strategic partner is also wrong. It will not bring any benefit - economic or military – to India, write Prof (Dr) Vesselin Popovski, Prof Abhinav Mehrotra and Surabhi Bhandari for South Asia Monitor
While Russia is removed from the Human Rights Council and Council of Europe and various countries and blocs including the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom imposed a series of sanctions against Russia, targeting banks, oil refineries and military exports. as well as Russia's financial, energy and transport sectors . Further, two of Russia's largest state-backed Sberbank and VTB Bank were sanctioned, and the country is cut off from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) international payment system. In this light, an important question arises about India’s future relations with Russia as so far India’s role has been only limited to declaratory statements and absenting itself from the vote in UNGA or there is something more that can be done. For example steps like taking a stand against Russia by imposing sanctions and being more proactive at the international level.
Historically, India’s leadership has been appreciative of the Soviet support leading to India’s independence. The diplomatic relations commenced post India’s independence in 1947, diplomatic ties were announced four months before the formal emergence of independent India on August 15, 1947. The Indo-Soviet relationship is said to be based on pillars of continuity, mutual trust and confidence; special bilateral trade and economic relationship that is the focus of this article.
In practice, both India and Russia support the concept of a multi-polar world , where there is one superpower and there are multiple poles that are important centers of economic and political power acting as independent actors. What this means is the co-existence of multiple powers and possibilities in the international system, collective security that is inclusive; greater regionalism to foster common regional interest; negotiated settlements; the possibility of independent foreign policy; and that international decisions be made through bodies like the UN that should be strengthened, democratised and empowered.
One of the most unique characteristics of the economic and political relationship between India and Russia has been the evolution from “a purely buyer-seller relationship to joint research, design development and production of state of the art military platforms. To illustrate, a successful example of it is the Brahmos missile. The two are also involved in the indigenous production of tanks and fighter jets, along with the upgrade of existing systems.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought all these aims, aspirations and social and economic relations under question as there are rampant violations of the territorial sovereignty and integrity by Russia that have further dented its image and put the relationship it shares with India under contention. At a larger level, the damage caused to Russia at the regional and international level is something that needs to be taken account of for future Indo -Russia relations.
It seems that with the continuation of the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the scenes of horrendous war crimes being revealed in many cities occupied by the Russian army, and the continuous denial by Kremlin of any wrongdoing, the conflict is not approaching to an end soon. Russia is reluctant to withdraw from the occupied land and negotiate meaningfully, keeps repeating various imaginary lies of being under attack itself by Ukraine and gradually losing power in all aspects – military, economic and political.
In the circumstances where the world is almost united in support for Ukraine and in accusation of Russia, it is time for India to reconsider its ties and historical relationship with Russia. Otherwise it faces the unpleasant isolation of remaining in the camp of the few remaining dictators – Russia, China, North Korea and Belarus – and losing reputation among the rest of the world.
There are three reasons why India should reconsider its ties with Russia – moral, pragmatic and geo-political.
This is an historic moment and where someone stands in the fight between an aggressor and a victim does matter. After WWII for a long time – 10 years -- those countries that collaborated with Hitler were considered as ‘enemy states’, and they were accepted into the United Nations only in 1955. If we move outside the high politics and ask any regular Indian person on the street where India should belong between an aggressor and a victim, the answer will be crystal clear. India itself has been a victim of many foreign interventions and occupations historically and everyone naturally and instinctively would take the side of the victim.
A nation in decline
But even if we put the moral aspect aside and try to be pragmatic, to regard Russia as a future strategic partner is also wrong. It will not bring any benefit - economic or military – to India. The Russian economy is already crippled by the sanctions, even its gas and oil industry is highly dependent on imported reserve parts and once these do no longer arrive from abroad, the extraction of oil and gas will decrease. Same with the weapons industry, it will not be plausible to expect Russia, whose economy and banking system are gradually collapsing, to be able – even with its best wishes to continue doing so - to supply the weapons and military equipment that India used to import in the past. To expect that in a possible future armed conflict with a neighbour India can rely on the Russian army is a lunacy.
The Russian army itself demonstrated in Ukraine what it actually represents - both in terms of disorganisation and disrespect for the rules and norms of war. India back in the time of “Mahabharata’ respected the rules of war much more than Russia does today in Ukraine. Is this army that massacred civilians in Bucha and Mariupol the one that India would like to consider its ‘future strategic partner’?
Finally, let’s consider future geopolitics, if India does not reconsider its foreign policy and determines it away from Russia, it will remain more and more isolated, among those fewer and fewer remaining ‘Russian friends’ in the world. In the long erm India will continue to lose its international reputation, it will be unfriended and sidelined at the UN and G-20 and regarded as non-reliable. This will bring additional economic and reputational costs. India can simply forget any pretense of being given a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, and in the shaping of the future global order.
(Prof (Dr.) Vesselin Popovski , Professor, OP Jindal Global University and Executive Director,Centre for Study of United Nations. Prof Abhinav Mehrotra, Assistant Professor, OP Jindal Global University and Assistant Director, Centre for Study of United Nations. Surabhi Bhandari, LLM Student, OP Jindal Global University and Researcher. Views are personal)