Russian Assault on Ukraine: India’s Tough Call

Viewpoint by Sugeeswara Senadhira

COLOMBO (IDN) — Sri Lanka announced its neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and urged the parties to solve their issue through negotiations. India, though considered to be the best peace broker to intervene to solve the Russia-Ukraine conflict due to its strong relationship with the two countries, is in a dilemma over the issue.

Although immediately after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeal to India to intervene, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Russian President Vladimir Putin and appealed to him to stop the military assault against Ukraine, there was no visible favourable response from Moscow. This belied the hopes of Ukraine. The Ukraine Ambassador Igor Polikha earlier had sought India’s intervention today, saying, the “stature of Modi-ji makes me hopeful, that with Modi ji’s strong voice, Putin will think”.

Modi’s office said the Premier called for “concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue” and added that India’s “long-standing conviction the differences between Russia and NATO can only be resolved through an honest and sincere dialogue”.

Russia’s strategy is to safeguard its borders with the European partners of the war pact, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Though Ukraine is not a member of the NATO war-pact, it has declared its intention to join the group, much to the detriment of Russia.

NATO threat

Russia feels its borders with Europe will be vulnerable to a potential NATO forces threat if Ukraine became a NATO partner. The current conflict is due to Russia’s desire to create a buffer zone to safeguard its borders with Western Europe. With this strategy, tanks and other heavy equipment rolled into several northern regions of Ukraine, separatist-controlled areas in the east which Russia has formally recognised as independent nations and the Kremlin-annexed the peninsula of Crimea in the south.

During the telephone conversation with the Indian Prime Minister, Russian President Putin had briefed him about the recent developments regarding Ukraine and agreed to remain in regular contact. Modi also discussed India’s concerns regarding the safety of Indian citizens in Ukraine, especially students. India, he said, attaches the highest priority to their safe exit and return.

Through the last three days, Russian missiles had rained on multiple cities in Ukraine, including its capital Kiev. The Russian Defence Ministry said it destroyed 74 above-ground military infrastructure facilities in Ukraine, including 11 aerodromes. Putin said that Ukraine is a puppet of the West, and claimed, “What was happening left us with no choice”.

Regional conflict

Russia labelled its offensive against Ukraine as a “regional conflict” and said all other countries, including India, should continue to have normal relations with Moscow, Andrey A Klimov, an influential member of the upper house of the Russian Federation’s Parliament, and the head of the ruling United Russia party’s international affairs section, said, “India is a great democratic State with a long democratic tradition. Of course, we would like to have India, as we had in our past, as our strategic partner and friend, partner of the State, and a friend of our people. So we look at our relationship with India in such a way.”

Klimov said Russia’s own national interests were primary. “First, territory—to protect the people of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Russian Federation; second, to give us the possibility to increase our economy, the Russian economy. But look, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy declared his intention to have a nuclear weapon pointed against Russia, it’s really crossing a red line, and we cannot just look and wait until they realise that very, very dangerous plan, is not just for us, but also for the rest of the world,” said Andrey A Klimov.

‘Do not interfere’

The aim of the Russian invasion is to use the Luhansk and Donetsk republics as a buffer zone. “We are not planning a regime change in Ukraine. We do not want to have any kind of invasion or interference in other States. This is not our job. And this is not our method. And it is in the hands of the Ukrainian people to build their own political system, according to their own laws by or through their own politicians, elected by their people,” Russian spokesman Klimov said. He asserted the occupation of Ukraine was not on Russia’s agenda.

Asked how the conflict could now be scaled down and resolved, he indicated that Russia’s first demand would be that Ukraine put in place a federal system. “We are looking for the beginning of negotiations between Kyiv, Lugansk and Donetsk and then we will get ready for continuing our dialogue with the Western countries, the members of NATO, and the US, for a peaceful coexistence in Europe,” he said. However, Indian analysts interpret this announcement as a ‘do not interfere’ warning.

Other big powers will not be able to counter Russia’s move to safeguard its borders, as they too indulged in similar strategies in the past. United States’ embargoes on Cuba and attempts of intimidation since Cuba became a member of the socialist bloc and CIA attempts to assassinate President Fidel Castro are a part of a similar tactic.

Similarly, China’s policies on neighbours, Tibet annexation and border clashes with India are a part of a strategy. India too armed and trained Vimukthi Bahini, in East Pakistan and finally intervened militarily to break Pakistan and free Bangladesh in 1971. It annexed Sikkim in 1975 to ensure the safety of its borders. Then India wanted to safeguard the South and trained the Tamil militants in Sri Lanka and later forced Colombo to accept the Indian military as peacekeepers.

In such big power strategies, the smaller nations do not have much of a say and even the United Nations will be a mere spectator, though will pass resolutions calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. [IDN-InDepthNews — 03 March 2022]

Photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2021. Credit: PTI

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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