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India’s Foreign Policy On Ukraine-Russia: ‘Risk Aversion’ Or Risk Management’? – Analysis

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Indian foreign policy in early 2022 has come under close global scrutiny on India’s policy stances abstaining on condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine in UN Resolutions. Consequently, Indian foreign policy of standing apart from Major Powers and United States in particular prompts an examination whether India was following a ‘Risks Aversion’ strategy rather than what could have been a pragmatic ‘Risks Management’ strategy.

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India advancing reasons centred on ‘strategic autonomy’, ‘neutrality’, or ‘National Interest dictates’ perceptionaly have failed to satisfy Major Powers. Patently, if India has cast her strategic preferences with United States & The West, then they have a right to expect India to stand with them as much as India would expect her Strategic Partners to stand with India against China.

Perceptionaly, all of India’s Strategic Partnerships stand configured to meet the China Threat and that is irrefutable.

Perceptionaly, in Major Powers capitals, India has been seen as sentimentally over-investing in its old Russian strategic partnership, no longer warranted by changing geopolitics and India’s own geopolitical preferences of concretising and institutionalising US-India Global Strategic Partnership, membership of QUAD, and strategic partnerships with Europe, Japan and Australia.

India’s strategic community has attempted  rationalising India’s stands on Russian invasion of Ukraine advancing that with India military inventories continuing to have a 70-80% dependence on Russian military hardware and keeping in mind China’s menacing and magnifying threats on our Northern Borders, it would have been ‘risky’ for India to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine. It would have endangered India’s war-preparedness against China.

India’s current foreign policy therefore in terms of ‘Risks Aversion’ and ‘Risks Management’ strategies contextually needs to be weighed factoring-in Russia and China reactions had India forthrightly condemned Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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‘Risks Aversion’ has been the defining signature of Indian foreign policy and perceptionaly it seems to persist. The United States paid a heavy price for its ‘Risks Aversion’ policies on China resulting in China establishing ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ over South China Sea endangering Indo Pacific security and India’s security too. My writings of last 15 years had constantly reflected this aspect.

The United States has learnt its lessons and now applying the hardest of economic sanctions on Russia besides funnelling-in billions of dollars of advanced US military hardware to Ukraine stemming Russian invasion.

‘Risks Aversion’ strategies stand defined as preference for “Certainty” over “Uncertainty”.  Applying these two determinants of current Indian foreign policy, then the following questions stare in India’s face:

  • In event of any possible China-India Armed Conflict what is the “certainty” that Russia will stand by India geopolitically and in terms of military hardware supplies?
  • Would Russia take a ‘neutral stand’ in event f China-India Armed Conflict” 
  • Is China amenable to Russian pressures to deter from Armed Conflict/ Military Coercion/Generating insurgencies within India?

Taking all three of the above together and also other imponderables that would come into play, one would like to assert that observing Russia-China Axis trends in South Asia and in Indo Pacific, Russia’s dependency on China is so overwhelming that Russia can least be expected to even remotely tilt in India’s favour in all of the above contingencies.

Post-Ukraine invasion, Russia’s geopolitical and strategic dependence on China can be expected to become more overwhelming. Simply, because United States & The West, are now looking towards converting Russian invasion of Ukraine into Russia’s Afghanistan Debacle 2.0 repeat.

(The above was forecasted in my Analysis on the fifth day of Ukraine invasion on Eurasia Review titled “Russia Headed for Afghanistan 2.0 in Ukraine Invasion-Analysis”)

Contextually, therefore, India’s Risks Aversion’ strategy on Russian invasion of Ukraine does not seem to have succeeded in securing India’s National Security interests. 

On the contrary, India can be expected to face more “Uncertainties”, both geopolitical and strategic, as Russia cornered in Ukraine by United States and The West, militarily and economically in dire straits, is already exhibiting reckless responses including threats of unleashing Nuclear Weapons.

Should not then India’s foreign policy have moved in direction of “Risks Management” which in simple terms would have focussed on analysis of:

  • Risks Identification following condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine
  • Probabilities of “Risks” accruing and their likelihood in wake of condemnation of Russia by India like other Major Powers
  • Impact on India’s security and countering “Risks” so arising.

The major risk identified in Indian strategic analyses and that could have weighed in India’s foreign policy stance on Ukraine was Russia retaliation of cutting-off Russian military supplies to India, India’s war –preparedness against China Threat being jeopardised & Russia-China Axis more strategic intrusiveness in South Asia.

Briefly, the probabilities and likelihood of all the three above three factors would have been limited. Militarily and economically weakened Russia would desperately need arms sales to old clients. Lead times would thus be available to India to shake off dependence on Russian military hardware.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the United States and The West responses thereon have not only surprised Russia but also was a grave political signalling to China. Weakened Russia unable to provide China with any strategic ballast in event of US-China Armed Conflict would make China think twice of pronounced military adventurism against India.

India’s war-preparedness against China threat in Eastern Ladakh since 2020 stands enhanced because of US-Origin heavy-lift aircraft and helicopters and intelligence sharing. Russian military hardware was hardly in play in Eastern Ladakh. French supplied Rafale advanced fighter aircraft had a sobering effect on China.

Next point to be examined is comparatively which Major Powers are likely to side/ assist India in event of a China-India Armed Conflict? The short answer to that is that Russia will certainly not. United States & The West with India’s now inter-linked Strategic Partnerships would more likely offer support to India in such a conflict.

 The 1962 War is a historical example and that too when India had no geopolitical weightage. Today United States and The West have invested heavily in India’s geopolitical, economic and military weightage, especially in context of China Threat to Indo Pacific security.

Concluding, what emerges is that “Risks Aversion” strategy of not condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine was a ‘Timid’ Indian foreign policy stance not in keeping with India’s stature as a Regional Power in South Asia and acknowledged as an “Emerged Power” expected to play a role in managing global peace and security.

The “Risks” that would have accrued in wake of a forthright stand of condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine could have been overcome with “Risks Management”. India is already in direction of self-reliant production of military hardware. Ukraine Invasion would presumably spur India to fast-track the process contributing to audacity in “Risks Management”. 

Dr. Subhash Kapila

Dr Subhash Kapila combines a rich and varied professional experience of Indian Army Brigadier ( Veteran), diplomatic assignments in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan. Served in India's Cabinet Secretariat also. He is a Graduate of Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley, UK, Msc Defence Studies from Madras University and a Doctorate in Strategic Studies from Allahabad University. Papers have been presented by him in International Seminars in Japan,Turkey, Russia and Vietnam. Credited to him are over 1,500 Papers on geopolitical & strategic topical issues and foreign policies of USA, Japan, India, China and Indo Pacific Asia. He has authored two Books : "India's Defence Policies & Strategic Thought: A Comparative Analysis" and "China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives"

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