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India’s Geopolitical And Military Lessons From Ukraine Invasion – Analysis

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Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 has not only generated global geopolitical turbulence but also should provoke countries like India to draw serious geopolitical and military lessons for recasting its foreign and defence policy directions.

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No India’s foreign policy or India’s military postures can exist in the cocoon of ‘Strategic Autonomy’. Both these vital determinants of India’s national security need to be co-related to evolving global geopolitical power-dynamics and the global geopolitical realignments unleashed by Ukraine Invasion by Russia. 

Geopolitical Lessons

Russia Geopolitically Devalued

Geopolitically, a reality-check on Russia post-Ukraine throws up the following conclusions:

  • Russia stands geopolitically isolated on global stage resulting in intense polarisation between US & The West and Russia with China in tow
  • Russia is reeling under severe economic sanctions and its geoeconomics leverages withering.
  • Russia’s “strategic Weight” in global affairs today stands greatly reduced and could go down further with the newly announced war-aims by US President Biden.

 Consequently, China will gain disproportionate leverages over Russia and Russia foreign policy directions. This has serious implications for India in relation to the China Threat.

China will with subtlety let Russia “bleed” on its Ukraine onslaught as it suits China’s interests.

Russia as a Determinant in India’s Foreign Policy

Russia geopolitically “Devalued” and its ‘Strategic Quotient” in global power-play neutered does not fit the bill of India’s national security calculations of Russia as a ‘Countervailing Power’ over China.

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India needlessly stood out by not censuring Russia over Ukraine in UN Resolutions.

The Soviet Union to which India was sentimentally attached strategically and which did serve India’s national security interests vis-à-vis China has long past into oblivion.

Russia as the successor state of Soviet Union more markedly since 2008 has aligned itself with China. The Russia-China Nexus has now morphed into a Russia-China Axis. Russia’s petulant responses in its South Asian policy directions should not have been missed by Inia’s foreign policy planners.

Ukraine should prove the “Tipping Point” where India “Resets” its Russia-policy future directions. Russia has ceased to be a ‘strategic Asset’ for Indian foreign policy.

India’s Strategic Congruencies in 2022 with United States & The West and QUAD

Post-Ukraine Invasion, what is likely to follow once US & The West downsize Russia militarily and economically is a similar downsizing of China’s unpunished military adventurism in South China Sea and on its peripheries including India and China’s growing intrusiveness in Indian Ocean.

India’s national security interests will be best served by building and reinforcing the evolving strategic congruencies with US and the West on China. 

India cannot devalue the QUAD which notably includes Japan and Australia with which India has forged significant bilateral security relationships by indulging in needless strategic ambiguities.

The QUAD is a China Threat-centric security grouping and not an International Red Cross Organisation for disaster relief in Indo Pacific.

‘Strategic Autonomy’ as an Indian Foreign Policy Option Not Encashable

Post-Ukraine Invasion by Russia the world stand polarised reminiscent of Post 1945 Europe Cold War with NATO and Warsaw Pact intense military confrontation.

‘Strategic Autonomy’ is not an encashable proposition in such an environment as painted above. ‘Strategic Autonomy’ a buzzword with India strategic community in its genuine connotations is not possible till India devotes at least 4% of its GDP for a decade on acquiring military muscle to back a ‘Strategically Autonomous’ foreign policy.

Till then, India has no option but to opt for a ‘tilt’ towards United States and the West against the Russia-China Axis. That is the uncomfortable but realistic truth. 

India’s foreign policy managers need to answer that has India’s ‘Strategic Autonomy’ stances deterred China from aggression on India’s Northern Borders with China Occupied Tibet or Pakistan from Islamist Jihadi terrorism onslaughts against India?

Major Military Lessons For India From Ukraine Invasion

While the Indian military hierarchy would have ordered studies for detailed analysis on military lessons from Russia’s lack of success even on 84th day of invasion of Ukraine with preponderant military superiority, some major lessons need highlighting.

India’s Nuclear Posture and India’s Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

Ukraine willingly gave up its sizeable nuclear weapons arsenal by Russia that Ukraine’s security would be assured. Russia today would have dared not invaded Ukraine if Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal was intact.

Russia having been severely checkmated in its military offensives by Ukraine Resistance and thereby militarily frustrated has led Russian President Putin to warn both Ukraine and NATO of ‘Nuclear War” by Russia.

The trend above by autocratic Communist rulers with sizeable nuclear arsenals raises serious questions for India facing another Chinese Communist autocratic ruler in Beijing.

India cannot be complacent on similar “Nuclear Blackmail” by China if in event of a China-India War, China frustrated by military resistance by India resorts to same tactics.

India’s nuclear weapons holdings cannot rest solely on the principle of ‘Minimum Credible Deterrence’ but need to be co-related to China’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Combat Worthiness of Russian-origin Military Hardware

India’s strategic commentaries post-Ukraine Invasion harps on India’s dependence on Russian military hardware inventories and hence the need for strategic compromises on Russia over Ukraine and which bring to the fore two major conclusions.

The first question hinges on the ‘Combat Effectiveness’ of Russian military hardware. Ukraine armed with rushed-in air defence missiles and anti-tank missiles, especially Stingers and Javelins have stemmed Russian military offensives despite being weaker militarily.

Secondly, there has to be a tipping-point for India to therefore to shake-off its dependence on Russian military hardware and spares. Post-Ukraine precisely is the tipping- point in this direction.

 Shaking-off India’s dependence on Russian military hardware, India should now demand as an interim measure from United States and the West to come up with ‘Lease Equipment Programs’ for advanced military hardware. This till such time as India’s indigenous defence production in cooperation with India’s private defence industries fills the voids of Russian military hardware so arising.

Russia’s Supply of Advanced Military Hardware to China and India without Distinction

Unlike the Soviet Union-era when USSR made a distinction between India and China on the sale of Russian advanced military hardware, Russia has not indicated or displayed any such strategic preferences.

On the contrary, perceptionaly, Chi is the first-recipient of advanced Russian military hardware. India’s priorities seem to come after China.

The above raises serious geopolitical and military complications for India’s war=preparedness against the China Threat. 

Russia gets strong leverages over India in the event of a China-India War and China is fully conversant with the operational deployments and use of Russian advance military hardware with India.

Drone WarfareL A New Overwhelming in Military Operations

Ukraine to overcome its military power asymmetries with Russian Invasion has displayed skilfully the overwhelming role of Drones right across the military spectrum from surveillance to precision-bombing. The sinking of the mighty Russian Navy warship ‘Moskova’ is a vivid example besides scores of Russian tanks on the offensive.

India is rich both in scientific talent and also the technology for Drones-production. This needs to be harnessed exponentially In relation to the China Threat on the Northern Borders.

Ukraine Invasion Impact on Chinese Military Thinking 

China is a very avid learner of military lessons of other people’s wars and initiate follow-up changes. RMA lessons and China putting it into military use is a past example.

While Indian Army may be drawing appropriate military lessons from the Ukraine conflict, Indian Army Chief General Pande may direct studies by ARTRAC and Army War College for specific analyses of the impact of Ukraine Invasion on Chinese military thinking. It is Chinese military literature post-Ukraine invasion that needs to scrutinise minutely.

Concluding Observations

India’s geopolitical and military postures cannot operate in the cocoon of ‘Strategic Autonomy’. They necessarily need to be co-related to the evolving global geopolitical power-play dynamics.

In the above context, India therefore, in the wake of geopolitical forces unleashed by Russian Invasion needs to view the Ukraine Invasion as a ‘Tipping-Point’ to both resest its Russia-policy and so also its restructure its military hardware inventories.

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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