02/24/2023, 21.41
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India’s balancing act with Russia, China and the US in preparation for the G20

by Alessandra De Poli

Unlike the West, India cannot afford to see Russia crumble because it would mean giving China carte blanche, this according to Rahul Roy-Chaudhury of the International Institute for Strategic Studies speaking to AsiaNews. If there is little talk about India's role in this war, it is because this is what it wants. Prime Minister Modi wants to bring the world's most important leaders at the same table.

Milano (AsiaNews) – If little is said about India's role in the war in Ukraine, compared to China, it is because it “does not want to talk about it; it prefers to keep a low profile and work diplomatically from behind the scenes in view of the G20 in September,” said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South and Central Asian Defence, Strategy and Diplomacy at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Today, at the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Bengaluru, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not mention the war. Officials involved in organising the meeting said that India would not support any on additional sanctions on Russia.

A year since the start of the war, India has not changed its position. “It is against human rights violations and certainly the war is not in its interest, but at the same time it does not directly support Western efforts in Ukraine because it does not want Russia to be defeated,” said Roy-Chaudhury.

For Indian leaders, “this would mean letting China become the main player in the region, while Europe and the United States are not only far away, but are seen also as declining powers.” In addition, “What many often do not notice is that, despite the friendly relations between Russia and China, Russian weapons bought by India are aimed at Beijing.”

Despite this, “India is trying to become self-sufficient, but for its own security, without a credible alternative from the West, it cannot afford to see Russia’s collapse. As a result, India prefers a multipolar world with a relatively strong Russia”.

For IISS scholar, India is and will remain tied to Russia for three main reasons, starting with history.

“When India needed support, it was always the Soviet Union that came to its aid, both during the war with China in 1962, providing weapons the West had refused to send, and during the war with Pakistan in 1971, when the USSR vetoed all UN Security Council resolutions against India supported by the West. There is a strong memory of these events in the Indian security establishment.”

Then there is the military side. “In the 1960s, Russia was India's first arms supplier.” Aware of the risks of such dependence, India tried to diversify the origin of its weapons, starting in the 1980s. Today “the dependence is on maintenance, spare parts and technologically advanced weapons that the West is not willing to give to New Delhi, which instead considers them necessary to oppose Beijing.”

Finally there is energy. Since it did not impose sanctions against Russia, “Last month, India became the first buyer of Russian oil”, 1.4 million barrels per day, or about 27 per cent of its imports.

Faced with Western accusations, India says it is just buying oil from the best supplier; in the last year, the price of Urals crude dropped to US$ 33 a barrel less than the global Brent index.

Thus, dependence on Russia is the reason why India has been careful. “New Delhi did not condemn or condone the invasion, a term that Indian officials have never used," Roy-Chaudhury explained. "India has no intention of undermining Western sanctions, but at the same time it wants to pursue its own national interest.”

“In other words, it's in the best of the worst position. It does not support the West and does not weaken its position, because it does not provide aid to Russia as China and Iran are suspected of doing. And this allows it to keep diplomatic channels open with Russia without anyone talking about it.”

Just a few weeks ago, for example, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was in Moscow to discuss with his Russian counterpart and promote bilateral cooperation.

Consistent with this view, for the umpteenth time, India abstained yesterday from voting on a resolution in the UN General Assembly condemning the invasion and calling for Russia's immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.

This explains why Western nations feel “a certain distrust which in reality comes mainly from Western defence ministries, who seem to think that India is not on their side. But this mistrust is in turn balanced by the West's need to have an ally in the region against China.”

In fact, India continues to be part of the Quad, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the forum for strategic dialogue between the United States, Australia, Japan and India. And only India shares a land border with China, and certainly does not want to see it become the new hegemon.

At the same time, according to Roy-Chaudhury, “the West cannot afford to ignore India because by 2035 it will become the world's third-largest economy."

A diplomatic balancing act could bear fruit in September, at the G20, which India will host, with Presidents Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping expected to attend. “This would have a worldwide echo, but also important implications domestically.

“Let's not forget that India’s next elections are in 2024. Anything could happen, but for the BJP, the ruling party, it would be a major success to bring together the world's most important leaders at the same table. Only a country like India right now would be able to do such a thing.”

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