As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changes the certitudes of the extant world order, India’s national interest has led it to abstain from naming and shaming, because, to quote External Affairs Minister, Jaishankar, Russia is a “very important partner”. That does not do away with the salience of America as India’s global strategic partner, whatever their differences over Ukraine, trade, and more. But Russia’s aggression changes the international order in ways which will prompt India to look beyond abstentions, and review its ties with America and Russia. For, in February, Russia invaded a sovereign state which borders four NATO countries.
Since then America, India’s Quad partner and the main counter to an expansionist China in Asia, has deployed more troops in Europe and is now on high alert simultaneously on both its European and Asian frontlines. It wants the support of friends including India, and allies on both fronts. As Moscow ups the ante by declaring the start of the third world war, terrified European countries, unable to defend themselves against an aggressive Russia, are reminded of their military dependence on America and want it to throw its strategic and economic weight behind the preservation of international law.
Unsurprisingly, Washington’s anti-Russia sanctions are intended to create “a new kind of economic statecraft with the power to inflict damage that rivals military might”; “impose significant costs” on Russian weapons production companies, and prevent them from returning to business. Indian firms trading with Russian defence suppliers could find themselves locked out of the dollar-based global financial system. India is dependent on Russia for more than 60 % of its arms including tanks, submarines and rifles. But by the end of March, reports revealed that the lack of components had stopped tank manufacturing in Russia. How will this affect a major Russian defence export to India?
At another level, India could face sanctions for buying the S-400 missile from Russia.
Russia’s weapons problems could also create an unprecedented diplomatic-political complication for India. Fighting an unexpectedly long war in Ukraine, Russia has requested China, its second-largest arms buyer (after India), to provide military equipment, including trucks! Whatever the outcome of the conflict, Russia’s inefficient, war-weary economy will become ever more dependent on China, which alone has the wherewithal to pick up the pieces.
This could ring alarm bells for India. China and Russia have welcomed its ‘neutrality’ in the UN because they dislike the Quad and wish to drive a wedge between Washington and New Delhi. India must therefore look beyond abstentions that please them and craft a strategy to deal with their divisive machinations.
At the bilateral level, America, which is currently India’s third-largest arms retailer (after Russia and France), will help India to replace Russian weapons – and give a lot more that is of lasting value. If people of Indian origin are flourishing in Silicon Valley it is because a democratic and open US prides itself on being a nation of immigrants. There are more than 200,000 Indian students in America and its Indian diaspora numbers more than 4 million. According to the Indian embassy in Moscow, there are 14,000 Indians in Russia.
In 2020, remittances from Indians in the US were to the tune of $ 83 billion, making India the top recipient of money from there. That was at least 10 times more than the value of Indo-Russian bilateral trade, which amounted to $8.1 billion during the financial year April 2020 through March 2021. America buys 18 % of India’s exports, Russia a mere 0. 85 %. Russia is the source of 1.5 % of India’s imports, America 7.3 %.
The US invested $45.9 billion in 2019 and $ 13.82 billion in 2020-21. Russia invested $1.26 billion from April 2000 to June 2021.
If India wants to be globally innovative, partnerships with world-leading American technological institutions and companies will be necessary. At the military-political level, since 2020 America has provided intelligence on Chinese troop movements on the Line of Actual Control. Both Russia and America favour a bilateral solution to the Sino-Indian border dispute. But Washington – including the Senate – has supported India’s territorial integrity. In contrast, last December, Putin endorsed the link between China’s economic prowess and military power and asked: “why should we follow third countries’ interests in building our policy?” This implies that Russia couldn’t care less about China violating the territorial sovereignty of India or any other country.
Despite America’s disastrous retreat from Afghanistan, its global strategic, technological and economic clout is far greater than that of China or Russia. That is of great import to India, which will turn to the US if it comes to the strategic crunch against China. China’s GDP is six times less than America’s and its defence spending three times less. The high cost of “Ukraine” could precipitate the collapse of Russia’s already flailing economy.
No country frames its foreign policy to serve the interests of another state. India is entitled to refuse to line up with America against Russia. It has also cancelled some orders for Russian materiel to promote indigenisation of arms manufacturing. But diversification of arms imports must proceed apace.
All told, America – rather than Russia – can give it more hard and soft power to advance the progress necessary to face the problematic new world created by the Ukraine war. Keeping its options open and accurately assessing the value of its relationships, India should reshape its ties with Russia and America.
This article was first published in the Deccan Herald on 28 April 2022