India balances relations with Russia and the West as tensions escalate

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NEW DELHI – India’s decision to abstain from voting on a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Russia halt its invasion of Ukraine does not signal support for Moscow, experts say, but rather reflects New Delhi’s dependence on its Cold War ally for energy, arms and support in conflicts with neighbors.

Russia eventually vetoed the resolution, while China and the United Arab Emirates also abstained from voting.

“We didn’t support what Russia did. We abstained. It’s the right thing to do under the circumstances,” said G. Parthasarthy, a retired Indian diplomat.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, called on Thursday for “an immediate end to the violence”. Modi called for efforts to return to diplomacy, saying “disputes between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue.”

India depends on Russian oil and gas. It imported around 1.8 million tonnes of thermal coal from Russia in 2021. And state-owned Gas Authority of India Limited has a 20-year deal with Russia’s Gazprom for around 2.5 million tonnes of gas natural liquid per year, which began in 2018, according to Indian media.

On security issues, India once depended on the support of the Soviet Union and its veto power in the Security Council in the dispute between India over Kashmir and its longtime rival Pakistan.

The Himalayan territory is shared between India and Pakistan, but both claim its entirety. India accuses Pakistan of backing armed rebels in Kashmir in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and driven nuclear-armed rivals to fight two wars.

India last week saw Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan land in Moscow as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Putin met Khan for nearly three hours.

The war in Ukraine has added to India’s challenges not only in Kashmir but also along its rugged mountainous border with China. Pakistan and China are seen as siding with Russia.

A confrontation in June 2020 along the disputed border between China and India altered the nations’ already strained relationship as rival troops fought with rocks, clubs and fists. At least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers were killed. Tensions persisted despite negotiations.

C. Raja Mohan, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said India’s continued reliance on Russian weapons is a key factor in India’s response to the invasion. Ukraine.

“It’s not just an abstract question. But the fact is that India is in the midst of a war with China. India is locked in a direct confrontation with China over a disputed border “, did he declare.

Modi and Putin met last year to discuss defense and trade relations, and they signed an agreement to extend their military technology cooperation for the next decade.

India has also acquired Russian S-400 missile systems, which it considers essential to counter China and Pakistan.

But as the Ukraine crisis escalates, the real issue for India is how it handles international sanctions against Russia, experts have said. The missile system deal put India at risk of US sanctions, after Washington told its partners to stay away from Russian military equipment.

“The problem for India is just beginning. The urgent need for her is to get out of dependence on Russian weapons,” Raja Mohan said.

Noor Ahmed Baba, a political scientist, said Western countries will be unhappy with India but probably cannot afford to completely alienate New Delhi.

“After all, countries balance principles with real politics and diplomacy,” he said. “It’s not only India’s advantage to be with the West, but they also need India.”

Information for this article was provided by Shonal Ganguly of The Associated Press.

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