WAR IN UKRAINE: INDIA BALANCING PRINCIPLES AND NATIONAL INTERESTS

anil chopra, JP Joshi, Air Power Asia, Ukraine, Russia, India, War, National Interest

Breach of Ukrainian Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

The screaming headlines, ‘Putin Invades Ukraine’, announced to the world on 24 Feb 2022 that Putin had finally gone ahead and shown the ‘will’ to bring to fruition his pre-meditated plan; the capability had been assembled at the right places much earlier. All along, Putin kept insisting that Russia would not invade; world leaders denounced his amassing of troops on three sides of the Ukrainian border with Russia/ Belarus/ Black sea and the sea of Azov; threats of economic sanctions like “never before” were put forward; a large number of world leaders met with him, and also a lot of diplomatic capital was invested in preventing a war. Intelligence reports by the US indicated an imminent invasion. However, a threat of invasion by a professional military on one side was sought to be deterred through verbal threats by world leaders, and by urging the world to provide financial and military equipment assistance to Ukraine by the other side. The UN Security Council proved ineffective in preventing an invasion. Nothing could deter Putin from executing his plan. The universal principle of international politics, as also laid down in the UN Charter – that of respecting the ‘sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ of other sovereign nations was breached, once again. The invasion took place through the medium of air, sea and land after Putin’s five am announcement on television. A lot of violence has been unleashed on strategically important military targets, with some collateral damage to civilian areas too. Battles are reportedly ongoing in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and the port cities of Kherson on the Black sea, as well as Henichesk on the Azov sea.

Hindustan Times, 28 Feb 2022 edition reported, citing Ukrainian claims, that 3500 Russian troops have been killed. Reportedly there have been 352 civilian casualties, and over 1600 injured on the Ukrainian side; 368,000 people have fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries, as per UNHCR. 22,000 Ukrainians returned home to defend their motherland. All indications on day 5 of the war seem to suggest that both sides will continue to fight, although Russian and Ukrainian officials are due to meet for talks at the Ukraine-Belarus border. A worrisome spectre is unfolding as the Russian President “has already issued a nuclear threat to the West.” NATO has three nuclear powers. It can only be hoped that better sense prevails. It also forces one to ask as to what led to this situation?

Growing Russian Insecurity

The Warsaw pact started to unravel in the late 80s with revolutions taking place in the pact countries, including Russia. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the end of the cold war and the economic, military, and political weakening of Russia. Reunification of Germany in Oct 1990 led to East Germany automatically becoming a part of NATO; 14 other countries have been admitted to NATO between 1999 and 2020, taking the present number of member countries to 30. In the 2008 NATO summit, it was agreed in principle that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually be inducted into NATO. Effectively this has implied that a large number of countries that were a part of the erstwhile USSR or Warsaw pact have also been inducted into NATO. It is a fact that every country inducted has exercised its right to choose what is best in its national interest. However, it is also a fact that NATO is a political and military alliance. This implies that offensive weapons, troops, and assets are now being stationed much closer to the Russian border, leading to insecurity in Putin’s Russia. Also, the expansion of EU and NATO eastwards gives one a perception that Russia is being systematically excluded from having a say, or influence in European matters, and is being given a cold shoulder with regards to integration with Europe. Russia’s European antecedents are being ignored.

Russia – Part of Europe

Russian Federation, or Russia as it is commonly known, is the world’s largest country, which occupies a large part of the Eurasian landmass towards the North. It is unique in that 77% of its territory falls in Asia and 23% in Europe. This 23% Russian landmass in Europe makes up almost 40% of the total landmass of Europe. Russia has a total population of about 146 million, of which about 77% live in the European part. Almost all of Russia’s largest cities are thus in the western part of the country, the most populous being Moscow, St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Rostov-on-Don are some of them. Incidentally, the European part of Russia is slightly larger than India. No doubt, Russia considers itself to be a European country on the basis of its peculiar location and population; not to forget that it was involved, and suffered, in most European wars, including the two world wars.

Now that Russia is involved in another war on the continent, it is too early to predict the likely outcome of the same, as the world leaders are still mulling over their responses, beyond the immediate economic sanctions announced by some countries. It is however undeniable that Russia violated the UN Charter by violating the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’ of another member nation, Ukraine. The breach of the UN charter is not new. However, this breach is likely to have an impact on India; early trends indicate the following, as analysed by the article in Hindustan Times of 25 Feb 2022.

War in Ukraine: Early Future Trends

Commencement of Cold war 2.0, between the US and Russia, “after decades of a relationship where distrust was accompanied with a degree of collaboration”; convergence of Beijing and Moscow on the ideological theme of “opposition to the West and their attempts to overhaul the existing architecture of global order”; churn and revision in the “European assumptions about its strategic posture”, as well as the US seeking from its European counterparts in NATO to take on “greater responsibilities, financial commitments, and military obligations to secure its eastern flank”; and lastly, the diminishing US mind share and focus with regards to the Indo-Pacific and Quad, in the short to medium term. It is nearly impossible to predict the future, as a variety of “imponderables” are involved, and this is even more so in the early stages of this “war” in Europe. One thing is certain that every war leads to loss of lives, human suffering, and has unintended economic, strategic, and political costs. Every country had pleaded for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, through talks, but it was not to be. The Indian PM Modi was the first world leader to telephonically speak with Putin after the invasion took place. He once again reiterated India’s stand of a peaceful resolution to the conflict through “honest and sincere dialogue”; appealing for an “immediate cessation of violence”; as also expressing his concerns about the safety of Indian citizens, especially students, stranded in Ukraine.

India: Balancing Principles and Interests

India is now in a very delicate situation considering its geo-strategic and geo-political compulsions. It is trying to do a very fine balancing act between “principles and interests”, as spelt out by the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar at the Munich Security Conference 2022. Principles are worthy ideals, which are designed to maintain “international peace and security” for each and every member nation. The principles of “peace and security”, “sovereign equality” of all nations, and “territorial integrity or political independence” of all members are worthy ideals that are agreed upon by all member nations of the UN, as per the UN Charter. However, the world is hardly ideal. Hard power still continues to carry large clout, as witnessed by India on numerous occasions in its history, as also witnessed and is still ongoing, in the war in Ukraine. Practical compulsions of meeting strategic national interests always weigh in on the principles; this has been seen and practised by all member states. India has no option but to be practical in the present global dispensation, what with a belligerent and aggressive China deployed on the eastern and northern border and a Pakistan swore to ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’ on the western border.

India and A Chinese Belligerence

The Galwan incursion was a direct result of China violating the mutually accepted and agreed principles; “not to bring military forces to the Line of Actual Control (LAC)”. This happened after nearly 45 years of relative peace and stable border management on the LAC. As per Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar, the “relations with China right now are going through a very difficult phase”, and understandably so, as the governing principles that ensured peace with China have been breached unilaterally. The situation has only marginally improved with 14 rounds of talks, but the process of dialogue is continuing. However, the coming together of China and Russia in recent days has heightened India’s security concerns.

Pakistan and its Policies

Pakistan has long been pursuing a policy of state sponsored terrorism. It is difficult for Pakistan to negate this policy as long as the “military-intelligence apparatus” holds predominant power in Pakistan. Negation thus demands a radical transformation in both the military as well as the civil society/ politicians of Pakistan. Will it happen, is the question? The China-Pakistan “iron brother” relationship is also a national security concern for India. The “ill-timed” visit of the Pakistani PM Imran Khan to Moscow at the height of the Ukraine crisis adds to India’s security concerns. A Russia-China-Pakistan axis would pose a grave national security threat to India.

Russia – A Trusted Friend

Russia has been a trusted friend of India for over five decades and has also been the largest military equipment supplier to India. As per a SIPRI report, “about 23% of Russian arm exports between 2016 to 2020” have been to India. During the recent visit of President Putin to Delhi, for the annual India Russia summit meeting, in Dec 2021, India and Russia signed over “two dozen deals across a variety of sectors” and also signed a “10-year defence cooperation pact”. The joint statement re-iterated India and Russia’s intention to “upgrade the defence cooperation, including facilitating joint development and production of military equipment, components and spare parts, enhancing the after-sales service system, progress towards mutual recognition of quality control and regular joint exercises of the Armed Forces of the two countries.” While the relationship with Russia has been enduring for decades, the standoff with China over Doklam in 2017 prompted India to deepen its relationship with the US also.

USA and the Quad

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), on account of “shared or converging values” between the USA, Japan, and Australia, was thus revived. It is felt that Quad could eventually “develop into a significant one for four countries who want to ensure that a rules-based order will prevail in the Indo-Pacific region rather than a coercion-based one.” The joint statement at the end of the summit level meeting in September 2021 highlighted the same. It stated that “Together, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states.” On principles, like all other member states of the UN, India too stands by rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. However, how does the UN or the present world order ensure a rules-based order, when even the pleadings, threats, statements, etc at the UN Security Council could not stop the eventual invasion of Ukraine, and the violence unleashed thereafter? Did any country come to militarily assist in countering the Russian military threat? The Ukrainian President Zelenskyy lamented, “we’re defending our country alone. The most powerful forces in the world are watching this from a distance,” He stated that new packages of sanctions did not go far enough. “Did yesterday’s sanctions impress Russia? We hear in the sky above us and on our land that it’s not enough”, he surmised. What does this imply?

Implications and India’s Stand

It implies that when the chips are down, the principles enshrined in the UN charter, and agreed to by all member states are just worthy ideals, and cannot guarantee national security to each state. This does not imply that these ideals are not worthy; it just implies that in this less than ideal world, every nation has to practically seek its own security. Thus there will always be a practical need to find a balance between the ‘principles and national interests’; this is the practical key to the survival, and national security of the state, in this less than ideal global order. The Indian abstention from the vote in the UN Security Council on 25 February was, as also its abstention from the procedural UNSC vote on 27 February, in keeping with its practical geo-political and strategic realities. It is a fine balancing act between the principles and its vital national security interests. The abstention was further amplified through an “Explanation of Vote”, which left no doubts that Russia had violated the “UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine, without naming Russia. It emphasised that “contemporary global order” has been built on these principles, and that “violence and hostilities” need to cease immediately. It also reminded that a “constructive way forward” to settling “disputes and differences” through “dialogue” should be adopted by all member states. The explanation also reiterated that loss of human lives and the welfare and security of Indian citizens were matters of concern to India.

Author: Wing Commander JP Joshi (Retd) was a fighter pilot in Indian Air Force, and has done Command and Staff College in the USA. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Header Image Source: Republic World

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

One thought on “WAR IN UKRAINE: INDIA BALANCING PRINCIPLES AND NATIONAL INTERESTS

  1. Hello again. I find your articles very interesting so please forgive me if I appear a bit awkward when commenting. I also think ordinary people should invest more efforts when determining what’s going on in the world. These are just my guesses based on what I have read. Your previous articles filled a lot of gaps in my overall knowledge and I sincerely thank you for it.
    When West attacks a country they do it in two ways. Lightly armed convoys way? What? When did West do that? West lunches hundreds of airstrikes and cruise missiles to decrepit existence of any structure capable to contribute those they have in their crosshairs on a defensive level. Then deploys 5 to 1 or more in strength terms land force leaving no real chance for defender to be able to digg in. The second way is to ensure before actual assault commencement attacked country will implode from within. Whether by political pressure or by simply buying aliance with the most suitable side in the conflict to do the dirty work for them.
    Russia doesn’t seem to have done that. They lunched in the first week probably a quarter of the might West would and what was practically needed to destroy every possible point of organised resistance on the ground. Shock’n’awe just wasn’t there.
    Question is why?
    Was there a military coup planned and it was foiled?
    First three days of their assault seem to have relied heavily on information war and certain intensity of internal help that never came.
    Was the failure of the first stage intelligence cock up? Military coup followed by assassination of the president was planned and voila. Very little bloodshed and all objectives achieved.
    Was this insider plotting if in fact this was the case leaked by the West to Zelenskiy thus he was able to prevent it? Did West do even more by covertly engaging Russian Army colons with their B2’s and drones? Was there a Tomahawk or two sent to the Russian Army from Zumwalt or Los Angeles class subs? Was there a number of infiltrations and commando raids on the advancing Russians designating targets done by extremely efficient Green Berret’s? Not in the spotlight like Seals in the last decade but they are the one’s best sent for these kinds of missions. These people are very efficiently trained to blend in on enemy soil and are considered by many to be more a military part of US intelligence community then anything else. They do dirty jobs best when it is required.
    There is another possibility why Russian incursion failed to end the war in the first week. It wasn’t suppose to. They had no idea where the main Ukrainian force is hidden and were just probing it in the first wave to draw them out in an attempt to identify and exhaust them. If it delivers overall success fine. If it doesn’t there’s always the main force in waiting to achieve the final victory. This is main force being deployed and they deliver.
    They might be even drawing West and their possible stealthy help into the spotlight. If they manage to do this effectively it will become very dangerous for it to continue if WW3 is to be avoided.

    Be as it may civilian population is suffering more and more and I do not see how this could benefit Russian Army.
    Which by glancing at it is made of poorly prepared troops for this kind of mission. Or were those just cannon meat formations of the first eschalon that were portrayed?
    My personal perception is that Russian High Command’s mindset is in 22nd century while their Army’s is still left in the 20th.
    If Russia has no technical ability to create true shock’n’awe upon Ukrainian Army then the old-fashioned blitz strategy is the only way. Strategically Ukraine cannot withstand such a way of warfare. Yet definition of the overall victory will define the chances of Russian Army to actually be able to come out from this conflict as the true victor.

    If the aim is to destroy militants and install their own government they can. But. They have to offer something beneficial to Ukrainian people to effectively reduce chances for guerrilla warfare to emerge afterwards.

    Otherwise it will become another Afghanistan. Russia hasn’t got enough forces to pacify Ukraine by itself in the long term. It could so easily turn into another protracted conflict with no clear military victor at the end of it. Who needs that? Terrorist breeding grounds in the heart of Europe. Deal must be made. Zelenskiy is not the man they want to negotiate with. It is Miss Ursula and Mighty Mr. Joe.

    West is actually doing everything to ensure this war continues the way they are handling this matter so far.
    How can Russia back down now? Being demonised for the same thing those demonising Russia are doing for centuries they have no choice but to continue until their objectives are reached. Yet there is this thing called negotiations.

    Give a little take a little save a whole lotta civilian lives.

    Like

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