Russia-Ukraine War: Why India is on Russia's side

Since Russia launched its full-scale offensive against Ukraine on February 24, the Indian government and a large section of the population have strongly supported Putin. The hashtags #IStandWithPutin and #IStandWithRussia have become very popular on Indian social media. On the other hand, the abstention of India from voting in the UN condemnation motion against Russia is another indication that Russia’s relations with India are not in jeopardy.

Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin
Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin 

India’s position in the Ukraine situation is not very surprising and unusual. Since India’s independence in 1947, a high level of diplomatic relations of political and strategic fidelity has been established between Moscow and New Delhi. Since then Russia and India have taken similar positions and supported each other on various international issues.

Moscow has sought to maintain a close relationship with India from the outset in order to balance US and Chinese dominance in Asia. And India has always enjoyed the support of a major power like Russia in international politics.

When India annexed the Daman and Dio territories in 1971 by using its armies against the Portuguese in Goa, the United States, United Kingdom, France and Turkey immediately moved a UN resolution condemning the withdrawal of Indian troops from the region. The former Soviet Union then opposed the condemnation motion.

In 1971, India and the Soviet Union signed the historic Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. Officially, the agreement was a powerful tool to increase the dominance of the then superpower Russia in South Asia.

The support of the Soviet Union and later Russia for India on the Kashmir issue is at the same time ruthless and politically important. In 1955, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev declared India’s sovereignty over Kashmir, saying, “We are so close that if you call us from the top of the mountain, we will stand by you.” Since then, Moscow has opposed international intervention in Kashmir.

The Soviet Union vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on the international community’s intervention in Kashmir in 1958, 1962, and 1962, and called for a negotiated solution to the Kashmir issue, citing bilateral issues between India and Pakistan. The Soviet Union maintained a similar position on the Indo-Pakistani war. Such a position of the Soviet Union has been appreciated in the Indian political arena ever since.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Foreign Minister (founding member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister from 1996-2004) warmly welcomed the Soviet delegation, setting aside its ideological differences with the Soviet Union; “Our country has only the Soviet Union as a loyal friend.” Later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and India maintained a special relationship.

In 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed the “Declaration of Strategic Partnership”. In 2010, a decade after the agreement was signed, the two countries signed the ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ agreement. In this special partnership agreement, Russia again sided with India on the Kashmir issue. When India repealed Article 370 of its constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, in 2019, the Modi government faced criticism from the international community, but Russia reiterated that it was an “internal matter” of India.

Russia’s first permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, said in a tweet in January 2020 that China-led international intervention in Kashmir had been called for. “The UN Security Council is closely monitoring the Kashmir issue. Russia strongly wants normalization of India-Pakistan relations. We believe that the differences between the two sides will be resolved through bilateral talks.

At the same time, diplomats from different countries expressed interest in visiting Kashmir, but Nikolai Kodashev, Russia’s ambassador to India, declined to comment.

‘I don’t think there is any reason to visit Kashmir. Russia has no role in the constitutional issue of India. Those who are concerned about the situation in Kashmir, those who are skeptical about India’s internal politics can visit Kashmir. We have no doubt so we will not go for inspection.

Although New Delhi is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council, India has shown its support for Moscow in all international arenas since entering into a strategic partnership with the Soviet Union after independence.

For example, the Hungarian revolution was forcibly suppressed by the Soviet Union in 1956. Where India refrains from publicly condemning the Soviet Union even though the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru personally condemned the repression in Moscow.

A decade later, in 1969, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to end Paraguay’s spring, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, delivered a scathing speech in the Lok Sabha of the Indian Parliament but refrained from criticizing Moscow in the international arena.

When the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979 to help the pro-Soviet government, then-Prime Minister Charan Singh, like many, strongly opposed the attack. Yet for many years, India, a beneficiary of the Soviet veto, refrained from voting in the UN General Assembly on a resolution condemning the Soviet Union. Not only that, India was the only non-aligned state to abstain from voting against the Soviet Union.

India’s pro-Moscow vote at the UN continues to this day. In 2000, India voted against a resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights accusing Russia of using inconsistent force in the Second Chechen War. In 2007, India voted against the UN General Assembly’s “Right of Return” resolution, which was adopted on the return of people displaced by the Russian invasion of Abkhazia. In 2013 and 2016, India abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly against the Russian-backed Assad government. As expected, India abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 and a resolution on human rights abuses in Ukraine in 2020.

In the light of this long diplomatic, military, cultural and economic history, it is not difficult to assume that the Indian government and a large section of the people will be on Russia’s side in the current crisis, despite various condemnations from the international community.

But that does not mean that India will support Russia under any circumstances. Over the past few years, New Delhi has strengthened its ties with the West, and if this trend continues, it will soon be difficult to sustain its historic ties with Moscow.

In fact, if Russia fails to win a final victory in Ukraine or its economic and military influence in Asia is weakened by Western sanctions, the Indian government will be forced to reconsider its position on Putin.

But now that India has sided with Russia and backed Putin, no one should be surprised.

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