India 'won't change stance' on alliance with Russia says expert
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Russia lapped the praise on India this month after lauding it for not judging the conflict in Ukraine in a “one-sided way”. While Delhi strongly condemned the mass civilian killings at Bucha, it has yet to specifically condemn Russia’s invasion. The country, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a major buyer of Russian arms, and has enjoyed strong diplomatic ties with Moscow for decades.
It now faces a political balancing act: under pressure from the West to sing from the same hymn sheet while acknowledging the need to remain close to its superpower ally.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson travels to India on Wednesday to meet with officials including Mr Modi, who he will sit down with on Friday.
He is expected to announce a major investment in key industries in the UK and India, as well as new collaboration on science, health and technology during the trip.
It is unclear whether he will talk about the country’s unwillingness to budge on the Russia question, but given India’s long history of pursuing a non-aligned strategy in international politics, and not tying itself to the interests of other global powers or political blocs, Mr Modi is unlikely to budge.
In a recent meeting between Russian foreign secretary Sergei Lavrov and his Indian counterpart, S Jaishankar, Lavrov spoke of the “friendship between the two nations”, and later met with Mr Modi himself.
It seems that even some aspects of Indian society support Russia, with hashtags such as #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia having trended on Indian social media in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.
But India and Russia’s friendship is not new: formal diplomatic ties go back to 1947, after India became an independent nation.
From this point, relations were shaped by a “high degree of political and strategic trust” according to a 2019 Observer Research Foundation report.
The two often took similar stances on the global political stage, and supported each other on contentious international issues.
For Russia, the India bond was vital for offsetting American and Chinese dominance in Asia, while India always enjoyed leveraging the support of a major power in international politics.
After India used its military to end Portuguese colonial sovereignty over a number of regions in 1961, the US, UK, France and Turkey condemned the move and called on Delhi to withdraw its troops immediately.
But the Soviet Union — at that time a major global power — opposed the proposal.
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Ten years later, in 1971, diplomatic ties were further cemented when India and the Soviet Union signed the “Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation”.
It formalised India’s alliance with Soviet Russia and ensured its presence in Asia.
The conflict in Kashmir has been one of the world’s longstanding crises, with many foreign governments desiring an end to the fighting and a peaceful solution between India and Pakistan.
Both Soviet Russia and later Russia ensured that they did not take a line that was best for everyone: instead ensuring that the special bond was strong and supporting India to resolve the issue itself without any outside meddling.
In 1955, declaring support for Indian sovereignty over Kashmir, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said: “We are so near that if ever you call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side.”
Ever since, Russia has been a major bidding power in preventing international intervention in the sordid situation in Kashmir.
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Three calls were made for international intervention on the UN Security Council in 1957, 1962 and 1971.
Yet, the Soviet Union insisted that it was a bilateral issue that needed to be solved through negotiations between India and Pakistan.
It took a similar stance on the Indo-Pak conflict in general, something that was greatly appreciated by those in power in India.
So strong was the bond that even stark ideological, cultural and religious differences were put aside.
In 1978, then Foreign Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee – a founding member of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who served as India’s prime minister between 1998 and 2004 — greeted a Soviet delegation to India with the message: “Our country found the only reliable friend in the Soviet Union alone”.
Even since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has worked hard to maintain its special relationship with Delhi.
In 2000, President Vladimir Putin signed a “Declaration of Strategic Partnership” with then-Prime Minister Vajpayee.
Among the many pledges of the five-page document included the pledge: “A desire to further consolidate their (India and Russia) traditionally close and friendly ties to mutual benefit”.
Returning to this mutual benefit, in 2010, both countries signed the “Special and Strategic Partnership”.
Vitally, this included Russia’s reasserted pro-India stance on Kashmir.
And, when Mr Modi faced global condemnation after scrapping Article 360 of India’s constitution that gave Jammu and Kashmir special status, Russia argued that the world should stay out of India’s affairs for it was an “internal matter”.
As recently as 2020, Russia has backed India when it found itself at loggerheads with the international community.
When China pushed for international intervention in Kashmir, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the UN, tweeted: “UNSC discussed Kashmir in closed consultations.
“Russia firmly stands for the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan.
“We hope that differences between them will be settled through bilateral efforts.”
Russian representatives have even refused to visit Kashmir while envoys of other countries do, claiming, again, that it is not a matter for foreign governments but for India.
And the feeling is mutual: while India has little political clout, it backed Soviet Russia and continues to back Russia today.
In 1956, Delhi refrained from publicly condemning the Soviet Union’s violent suppression of the Hungarian revolution.
This was despite India’s then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru being critical of Moscow’s actions in private.
When Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring more than a decade later, while then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave a disapproving speech in the Indian parliament, she refrained from directly criticising Moscow on a global platform.
India would later abstain from a subsequent vote on a resolution condemning the invasion.
The country even opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 but, having been a beneficiary of Soviet vetoes across the preceding decades, once again abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the act — the only non-aligned country to do so.
A whole raft of instances of India voting in favour of Russia in times of crisis exist: it voted against a UN Human Rights Commission resolution that condemned Moscow’s “disproportionate use of force” in the second Chechen war; it voted against a UN General Assembly resolution that declared the “right of return” of those displaced by Russia’s campaign in Abkhazia in Georgia in 2008; it abstained from voting in the 2013 and 2016 UN General Assembly resolutions critical of the Assad regime supported by Russia; it also abstained from voting on the UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Crimea — the list goes on.
In late March, the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss travelled to India to try to persuade it to condemn Russia and move away from relying on its Moscow alliance.
Her efforts ultimately failed, and the trip was made awkward by the presence of Lavrov, who had also travelled to India to meet with officials.
But, after the revelations at Bucha were made clear, India did give its strongest statement yet about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at the UN Security Council meeting in early April, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations TS Tirumurti said the country “remained deeply concerned at the worsening situation and reiterates its call for immediate cessation of violence and end to hostilities”.
He continued: “The situation in Ukraine has not shown any significant improvement since the Council last discussed the issue.
“The security situation has only deteriorated, as well as its humanitarian consequences.
“We hope the international community will continue to respond positively to humanitarian needs.
“We support calls urging for guarantees of safe passage to deliver essential humanitarian and medical supplies.”
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