India must review its stand on Russia The Statesman 11 Oct 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


India must review its stand on Russia The Statesman 11 Oct 2022

          PM Modi spoke to Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, last week and reiterated his call for peace and dialogue. The Indian foreign ministry stated, ‘He (PM Modi) expressed his firm conviction that there can be no military solution to the conflict and conveyed India’s readiness to contribute to any peace efforts.’ Zelensky responded by stating that there would be no talks with Putin, though not ruling out dialogue with Russia under an alternate leadership.  

This conversation came as nuclear facilities in Ukraine remain under threat, with battles waging in their proximity, Putin’s partial mobilization, annexation of ‘four new regions’ of Ukraine (Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson) based on a ‘referendum’ and his threat of use of nuclear weapons in case the west does not stop backing Kiev. The partial damage to the Crimean bridge has opened a new challenge for Russia. 

          The nuclear threat was announced post annexation, as these territories are now under Moscow. Defending them is a Russian responsibility and as per Putin, they are authorized to use all military means at their disposal for their defence. The Russian annexation has been globally condemned.  

The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, stated, ‘Any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter.’ It could set a precedence for stronger states forcibly occupying territory of weaker states. The annexation announced by Russia includes territory still not under its control.

India, alongside China, Brazil and Gabon abstained from voting in the UNSC resolution against the Russian referendum and annexation. By doing so, India indirectly backed use of force for occupation of territory along demarcated borders, irrespective of Russian justification. Russia, as was expected, vetoed the resolution. India has reiterated its stance of resolution through dialogue and diplomacy, rather than war.

Zelensky has signed a decree banning talks with Putin, which defines future Ukrainian approach. It is an accepted fact that Washington and London scuttled the Istanbul agreement which could have resulted in peace, as the US saw this as an opportunity to engage Russia in a proxy war. In Russia, Putin continues to retain power, despite setbacks in the warzone. The Ukrainian scenario could worsen in case the US announces some form of nuclear backing to Ukraine or inducts it into NATO. In case Moscow loses further ground in Ukraine it may commence targeting civilian population enhancing the scope of the conflict.  

The world appreciated the Indian approach as long as the conflict raged but with the annexation and threat of nuclear war, the Indian stance is questionable. Internally too, the government is being grilled on whether its backs forcible annexation along demarcated borders. India must reconsider its stand, despite its relations with Russia.

Employing a nuclear weapon or not is secondary but threatening a non-nuclear state is against global norms. A nuclear strike would damage Putin and Russia more, rather than proving advantageous, and if employed in the current battle zone could impact population which voted for merger with Russia or even Russian troops on the ground. With Europe not seeking an enlarged conflict and especially not nuclear, any Russian strike is unlikely to be responded likewise as Europe fears a nuclear holocaust. The west would only enhance sanctions or further back Ukraine.

Indian silence on the nuclear threat is mysterious as it its foreign ministry claims, ‘India continues to attach high priority to and remains committed to universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament.’ Historically nuclear weapons have been employed as a deterrent against an adversary. Pakistan has effectively employed nuclear blackmail on numerous occasions against India including Kargil, offensive actions post the Parliament attack (Operation Parakram) and Mumbai blasts. Pakistan is possibly the only nuclear-powered nation which does not possess a ‘no first use’ policy.

With Putin making this announcement, Russia is also dumping its ‘no first use’ policy. This is a wrong precedence, especially since it involves a nation which surrendered its nuclear weapons on global guarantees post the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many believe the Russians are bluffing. However, in case utilized, all nations will seek to acquire them as security. Thus, irrespective of Russian intent, this threat must be condemned by Delhi, as it could result in nuclear proliferation.

The other aspect which necessitates an Indian review is Moscow’s annexation of Ukrainian territories. This is a precedence which must never be permitted. Taiwan, islands in the South China Sea, claimed parts of Bhutan and Nepal or even Indian territory currently under its control, including Aksai Chin or Ladakh could be annexed by China on a similar pretext. China could also threaten use of nuclear weapons against nations coming to the aid of Taiwan in case it decides to undertake a military approach.

After all, countries seek a precedence and Russia is providing it. The US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, rightly stated that the referendum was ‘held behind the barrel of Russian guns,’ added, ‘All of us understand the implications for our own borders, our own economies and our own countries, if these principles are tossed aside.’ The Chinese sham elections in Dec last year in Hong Kong, under the barrel of the gun, to push through a pro-Beijing government is almost similar to the sham referendum. Russian annexation must face global criticism before it is considered a norm.  

China is currently hesitant due to US support for Taiwan as also nations with whom it is in dispute with over South China Sea islands. It fears it may fail as also invite global wrath. Thus, it has projected peaceful reunification with Taiwan, which appears unlikely. At some stage, it may attempt a Russia type invasion. India has thus far managed to keep the Chinese at bay. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine including annexation and nuclear threats suit China. It would be observing global reaction, hence abstained in the UNSC, as it may, in future, contemplate a similar course. For India, legalizing annexation by abstaining on the premise of belief in dialogue is a wrong decision. While Delhi may advocate talks, it must condemn both, the annexation and nuclear threats.