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UNSC Abstention On Ukraine Can Cost India It’s Strategic Allies – OpEd

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As the world is witnessing an escalation in tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border where Moscow has deployed more than a hundred thousand of its troops, it is also flexing its muscles by stationing more forces in Belarus, in the shadow of military exercises. United States (U.S.), Europe and Britain has expressed concerns, while President Biden and U.S. State Department have issued multiple warnings that Russia is attempting to ‘fabricate a pretext for an attack’ on Ukraine.

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On 31 January, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss Russian troops’ buildup on Ukraine border and tried to defuse the crisis. While U.S. termed it the largest mobilization in decades, Russia accused Washington and EU of “whipping up tensions”. In UNSC before the session, it was required by procedural vote that nine of the members should support the move. Ten of the members including US, UK and France voted in favor, whereas, China and Russia voted against it. India, being a strategic partner of U.S. and Russia being its largest arms supplier abstained along with Gabon and Kenya.       

The Indian move in case of Ukraine crisis is not surprising, as in July 2021, S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, said “the country (India) will stay true to its founding tradition of non-alignment and not take sides with any big power”. Though India’s abstention in UNSC is according to its policy, but it is in contrast to its strengthening relations with U.S. and also being one of the members of QUAD. 

If we look in the past, in 2010, the then President Barack Obama on his visit to India, said he looked forward to the day India would become a permanent member of a reformed UNSC. In the years since, countries ranging from Australia to France also endorsed India’s bid. The present move by New Delhi my not undermine its valued relations with U.S., but for a country that aspires to be a global power, India made shortsighted decision. 

In case of Russian military action in Ukraine, Moscow will become more dependent on China for political support, and in that case India’s neutrality will go vain, as it will give China more sway over Russia. As a result of this, New Delhi won’t be able to withstand the harsh international backlash and the consequences of a war like scenario.   

As per U.S.’ intelligence assessment there are 70 percent chances of Russian invasion and the prediction that Moscow can seize Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, in days; can force around a half a million people to flee. This Russian belligerence would force Washington to shift its resources and attention from Indo-Pacific to Europe, and if India again remains neutral, Moscow will frame it as its victory against U.S. 

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Though U.S. has not asked India to choose between Moscow and Washington, but recently U.S. lawmakers also pressed a waiver for India over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system under “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA). If Russia-U.S. ties continues to deteriorate and India stays neutral, the possibility of wavier under CAATSA will certainly change.

With new alliances and new global order, and Beijing’s rise as a common strategic adversary, the costs of Indo-U.S. inability to work together in new global governance arena can be much higher for both countries. As India believes that its policy at UN is of non-alignment but it has transformed into a policy of non-alienation, which requires it to not alienate any major bloc, group, or constituency in international forums. 

The case of Ukraine is not the new one. In Israel-Palestine conflict, U.S. supports Israel, whereas, India is leaned towards Palestine because of its energy dependency on the Arab world. In 2011, India abstained from UNSC resolution for action against Syria for its crackdown on pro-democracy activists. In 2014, New Delhi again refrained from UNSC resolution for condemning Russia over Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. Many experts believe that abstention is part of India’s delicate balancing act between Russia and the West. 

For now, U.S’ ardent wooing of New Delhi has led many in India in believing that Washington needs India more than India needs U.S; but this is a dangerous delusion because in politics there are no permanent foes and friends, and the ambivalence about Russian aggression would further undermine the idea that a powerful India benefits the West. 

*Qudrat Ullah is a freelancer and media activist. He writes on political developments and security issues with special focus on South Asia and the region.

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