Western-led efforts to woo the world’s largest democracy will not work as long as dictates are imposed on New Delhi with imperialist undertones.
As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, India unsurprisingly chose to drop the Ukrainian conflict and hesitated to openly condemn the aggressor.
In all honesty, the West has done itself a disservice by putting undue pressure on the Indian government to choose sides. The predicament India finds itself in as a result of the ongoing war is much more complex than a simple black and white scenario.
Admittedly, the Indo-Russian ties do not do justice to the hype surrounding their supposed “special and privileged strategic partnership”. Bilateral trade volume amounted to less than US$8 billion in 2019, which is a pittance given the nominal size of their economies and the frequency with which their respective heads of state hold face-to-face.
Rest assured that this relationship is entirely transactional, with nothing concrete to show in terms of multifaceted cooperation or cross-cultural engagement.
India remains a key client state of the Russian military-industrial complex, as nearly 70% of its weapons and parts are imported from Moscow. Despite becoming dangerously beholden to a single vendor for national security, its Ministry of Defense has little desire to rock the boat amid a dual threat from neighbors China and Pakistan.
In a sense, India’s reliance on Russian-made hardware is as toxic and difficult to wean off as the European Union’s helpless reliance on Russian gas.
In light of the unresolved border dispute with China, the Indian public believes Russia is playing an indispensable role in keeping the Chinese at bay. Russian arms manufacturers and dealers have a vested interest in tensions erupting between the two most populous countries, given the extent to which they profit from long-term, multibillion-dollar contracts out of sheer paranoia.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Moscow on the first day of the incursion, showing that Russia is an unfaithful ally playing a double game to fill state coffers.
Russia is also a threat rather than a guarantor for pan-Asian regional stability. His cunning in portraying himself as a well-meaning mediator in futile groupings like the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) simply overshadows the chaos sown behind the scenes.
On the contrary, the invasion of Ukraine has emboldened China so deeply that Taiwan and Hong Kong are now considered small fry compared to India. Having recently signed a ‘no limits’ deal with the People’s Republic, it’s clear who the Russians will turn to if the going gets tough.
On the ideological front, Russia and India happen to be opposite poles. At one end of the geopolitical spectrum is peace and freedom-loving India which brought Buddhism, yoga and Mahatma Gandhi to the world – all synonymous with preaching non-violence and spiritual serenity. Meanwhile, Russia remains a glorified police state bent on ruthlessly crushing dissenting voices at home and abroad while using brute force to lure sovereign nations into its shrinking sphere of influence.
As the standoff between Russia and NATO unfolds to bring India to one side or the other, the latter is unlikely to change gears anytime soon. For statists, tacitly presenting this war as a clash between democracy and autocracy has failed to strike a chord. While India still sees itself as an integral part of the free world, ending the bloodshed in Ukraine is tantamount to being on the right side of history rather than identifying with a certain model of governance.
Some Western powers urging India to abandon its neutral stance are themselves to blame for funding Putin’s war chest over the past decades. The fact that a number of these nations are resorting to neo-colonialism as a means of winning over third countries does not help their cause either.
From India’s point of view, the British, French and Germans must get off their high horses and stop
condescending to a developing country that puts the needs of its people above all else.
As far as the United States is concerned, the days of ruthlessly punishing those who do not toe the American line are long gone. Whether it’s Russia or Iran, history has proven that any country that falls victim to outdated cowboy tactics finds ways to circumvent embargoes and become self-sufficient. For all its flaws, Russia has launched a shrewd charm offensive in the Global South by peddling the narrative that its special military operation is paving the way for a more balanced world order.
Needless to say, accepting the idea that a power-hungry, expansionist Kremlin will settle for a level playing field in this post-conflict era is the height of naivety. India is no exception to the host of developing countries that have sought solace in not continuing to be under the thumb of the West indefinitely.
That said, anyone can guess how much better off they would be in a Russian-dominated world lacking in civil liberties, respect for humanity, and socio-economic advancement.
Make no mistake, the Cold War is still alive and well, even as it takes shape in the information age, with an increased focus on cyber penetration as well as soft power to advance conflicting agendas.
The fact that the Russian government is prepared to hemorrhage its ill-gotten gains in an ego-driven war and throw its own citizens under the bus to showcase national military prowess serves as a prototype of the future that they envision.
The “Lisbon to Vladivostok” proposal for a Greater Europe has two very different interpretations depending on the city in which you find yourself. At a time of far less friction between Russia and the EU, this initiative was initially embraced by Brussels as a healthy offset to the meteoric rise of China and the Four Asian Tigers. In Moscow, however, it was a signal of both territorial and philosophical enlargement with the Eastern bloc as the unequivocal starting point.
The underrated hand of emerging Europe
Like any other former colony that has fought long and hard for its independence, India does not appreciate external actors passing judgment on its internal affairs and foreign policy decisions.
Sensitivities to colonial rule are so deeply rooted that it is out of the question to be sucked into the Western fold as it strives to isolate Russia from the international community. By keeping their promise to back Ukraine to the hilt and knowing all too well what life is like under occupation, emerging Europe has a serious chance of helping India see the light.
The CEEC region has, for the most part, stuck to its guns and shown incredible altruism in compromising its own standard of living to maintain the cornerstones of European identity. It is commendable that these nations are prepared to endure an exceptionally harsh winter in order to safeguard democracy across the continent, not to mention cope with soaring prices and house millions of Ukrainians in private households rather than in inhumane refugee camps. This selflessness lends credence to calls for other like-minded countries, such as India, to join in the restoration of a free Ukraine.
Of course, there are special cases like Hungary and Serbia which did not participate in the sanctions campaign against Russia. However, as more Russian tourists arguably head to the only two countries on the continent where they are still welcome, their true colors will become apparent. Ultimately, it is the masses who support Putin’s regime and show little remorse for the atrocities committed in a country where many of them incidentally have first-degree relatives. As for those fleeing for humanitarian reasons, it is somewhat surprising that they choose to take the long route to the EU when they enjoy visa-free access to 120 other countries.
While India has never weighed on the international scene, it should be more assertive in the wake of a possible nuclear armageddon. Sitting idly by and letting Kyiv down is not an option for a budding superpower, no matter how much partisanship to Ukraine costs.
As mentioned earlier, trade ties between India and Russia are primitive at best. By walking away from Moscow until the war subsides, New Delhi would make a statement strong enough to win new partners in emerging Europe who can fill the resulting void while sharing a clear affinity for the mode. of everyone’s life.
The silver lining of this war is that, contrary to the prism through which much of the outside world views Europe, the continent is not confined to a handful of “legacy brand” Western countries. The new kids on the block, who are virtually all located in the East, have a much greater sense of their purpose to protect Europe from harmful influences. To that end, there is no conceivable reason why India should not start selecting strategic partners like Poland, Czechia and the Baltics instead of dealing with the EU as a monolithic entity.
In addition to sounding the alarm that Russia is firmly targeting one of them after Ukraine, member states in emerging Europe are equally wary of “daddy” diplomacy. sugar” from China. A notable example is Lithuania, which went ahead with de facto recognition of Taiwan much to the chagrin of the Chinese Communist Party.
This is by no means a unique case, as more and more countries in the immediate neighborhood will begin to see through China’s quest for political pressure and instead seek to deepen dialogue with India. In turn, it is high time India took heed of how the continental wind blows and gave emerging Europe comparatively greater weight than it was given.
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