In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics on 14th March 2022. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist.
Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and that diplomacy and dialogue are the only way in which today the world can live. Considering the destruction in Europe in the aftermath of the first two world wars, he states that no one was anticipating a war in Europe in recent times. Further, he states that this war is a conflict for geopolitical and geo-economic competition between a hyperpower and a superpower. Another thing that we are seeing, in his view, is this is the first full-fledged hybrid warfare that is taking place in the world today and it will change the way the world is looked at in present times.
India’s Special Privilege
Mr. Anil Trigunayat talks about India’s vote in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). He states that he is not looking at it from the point of view of India’s special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia. Nor is he looking at it from the point of view that Ukraine throughout its history has never supported India on anything. Rather, he is looking at it from where India stands and opines that India’s vote was indeed the most sensible as it was in keeping with its history and philosophy and its adherence to the UN Charter as well as to the dialogue and diplomacy. In his view, India has never, in its modern history, supported external military intervention whether it was by the United States or whether it is by Russians. it has always overtly or covertly has always told the powers that they’re wrong and that dialogue and diplomacy should be there.
Looking at the geopolitics now, he states that while the transatlantic alliance is becoming stronger because of this particular threat from Russia, we have seen weaponization of the financial instruments. In his view, it is the Europeans, including Russia, that will now move into the Asian bracket a little more. In that sense, he states that we are looking at a Cold War 2.0 scenario with a much stronger vehemence of the opposition and fight for technology with the Sino-Russian axis emerging very strong.
He concludes his introduction by saying that India could have done a little more and that henceforth, we should try to work on something called Nations for Strategic Autonomy (NSA). Given the fact that India has the second-largest population in the world, and is the second biggest market in the world, he opines that there is a lot of scope here and that a large number of countries will support this venture of an NSA.
The discussion is then taken forward by Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu. He begins the discussion by outlining three lenses through which most countries view any kind of global commitment including military operations. The first is a national interest, in the sense of trying to promote and advance your own security and interests. Second, he believes, there is also an element of wanting to preserve the rule-based order. Similarly, the third is the element of humanitarian dynamics. He then states that there is an obvious hierarchy among these three elements. However, if there is a convergence between these three lenses, that’s when the world can see greater support for that action.
He then points out that in the case of the United States, the invasion of Ukraine covers all three lenses. It is in the US national interest, it is a humanitarian issue and it does challenge the UN Charter. Putting the US in the context of the ongoing ‘war’, he also attempts to give an Indian perspective to the discussion. He states that not of its own choice of wanting Soviet and Russian actions, India has more often than not been put in a bind. In his opinion, however, this conflict provides India with an opportunity to think about diversification because that is what would really underline the autonomy that was earlier spoken about. He then talks about the issue of abstention.
The first point he makes is the way this has come across almost being seen as a negative force whereas in a way it is really much more neutral. He then also talks about how India’s relationship with the US is taking an upward trajectory since 1991. In his opinion, the administration of the day only determines the pace of that trajectory. However, when it comes to the US, there are at least 3 actors that India needs to think about: the government, the corporate sector, and the diaspora.
On the government front, Prof. Sidhu continues, while there is a much better understanding on the part of the administration of India’s position which is why in the emergency QUAD meeting which was called just at the beginning of March, India was not forced to put into a corner on its position of not supporting the rule-based law in Europe while wanting to support it in the Indo-Pacific.
He believes that the real challenge is going to be in the Congress because that is where India is going to come under much greater scrutiny on the part of its abstention, particularly for the kind of exemptions it is seeking for military equipment from Russia and in particular the s-400. He believes that that is going to be a critical element for India’s own security and geopolitics.
He concludes his perspective by pointing out that 35 countries chose to abstain according to the UNGA voting. These abstentions are both problematic for the Russians because many of Russia’s so-called allies chose to abstain rather than support it. But, he also believes that India, apart from looking after the interests of its own citizens, has not done as much as it could so it is talking the talk of dialogue but hasn’t walked that walk yet.
New World Order
Ambassador H.E. Freddy Svane then took the discussion forward by stating that this is a very important juncture in the new world order and also for humanity and for all the democracies around the world. He points out that Europe has changed overnight: there are no more fractures to be seen in the European Union and in Europe as such, NATO is much more cemented than before and the transatlantic relationship has also changed dramatically. Therefore, in his opinion, we will see a world order that is very different but also challenging for the rest of the world.
He also believes that India could have done more in this particular scenario. But in the longer run, the current trends also have to be looked into. New equations are emerging, and Russia is more isolated than ever before. The other part, in his opinion, is who will benefit from this conflict in the larger picture. He states that Russia and China might find stronger coherence and that might not be a comfort to India, therefore forcing India to make a call one way or another.
He argues, however, that the context since 1947 and even in the last decade has changed dramatically, and consequently, so have the demands being put on the democracies of the world. Although he believes that the Indian way is an important way, it cannot just be how it worked early on because the context back then was very different. He concludes his discussion by saying that in the context of India, dependencies will have to be reduced. India will have to be loyal to its own strategy and define much more clearly and strategically its own interests, navigating not with words but with actions.
Brief on Russia’s Relations
Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty then continues the discussion by stating that war is a continuation of the political dimension by other means so it’s not something that someone likes or dislikes but it is something that is done, and all the definitions of war do not emanate in either India or Russia, but in the United States. He points out that collaborating with the US is very difficult whereas dealing with Russia is much simpler in that you have one agency and the Indian embassy in Moscow. He then proceeds to highlight the events between Ukraine and Russia since December 1991.
He starts with the black sea fleet laying in Crimea was declared part of Russia by Boris Yelstin. Next, he talks about what he claims to be the most important decision which took place in 1994 when nuclear weapons in Ukraine were removed by Russia. Then, he spoke about how General Gerasimov continues to be the Chief of General Staff from 2012 to even now in 2022, and how he applied the Gerasimov doctrine.
He proceeds to mention the Donbas region and how the conflict between the two countries has been developing. After setting the context, he talks about the ongoing conflict. He mentions Putin’s motive of not letting Ukraine join first the NATO, and then the European Union. The aim, in his view, was to make the political leaders realize that there is no point in going with the West. He also further opines that out of all the leaders, Putin is probably militarily the most calibrated. In his view, if Ukraine joins NATO, the world will cease to exist.
Repercussions of the war
Mr. T.K. Arun then continues the discussion by supporting Dr. Chakravorty’s claims. He does so by stating that India’s stance is not guided by the past but by the future. He opines that when the world was divided between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, India was able to meddle between the two and play one side against the other. But that option will not be available when one of the two hegemons is China. If that happens, India will be completely under the thumb of the US which goes against the very root of India’s policy of having strategic autonomy. Therefore, it is in India’s interest for Russia to continue as a viable geopolitical power and that is one major reason that motivates India to act in the way that it has.
Further, he opines that even if the war ends tomorrow, there are serious economic implications that have already been unleashed and which will not go back. That is, in his view, the fact that the oil, gas, and wheat prices have gone up and these are things that can not be suddenly reversed. The next sowing of wheat in Ukraine has been affected which means there will be a shortage of wheat for the foreseeable next six-seven months and that will have its own implication for food prices. This comes at a time when the world is seeing heightened inflation as a result of COVID-19 related supply bottlenecks and these pressures will increase the tendency for prices to stay up and keep rising.
Further, the foreign portfolio investors have dumped their investments in Indian stocks and have gone back to their home countries. This pushes pressure on our exchange rates, the Rupee has depreciated as well. when the RBI intervenes to stabilize the Rupee and sells Dollar then it actually creates an additional liquidity shortage. And that is not very good for India at a time when the economic recovery is still very nascent. These are all consequences that have been created by the war in the short term but there are longer-term implications as well.
The weaponization of the dollar that we saw with Iran already had created problems even for Europe. Europe had wanted to buy oil from Iran because they were part of the new Iran nuclear deal and they were not very happy when Trump walked out of it unilaterally but because of the ability of the United States to use the dollar as leverage against all other countries in the world, they got away with it.
But now, China and Russia will collaborate in creating an alternate payment mechanism that will greatly reduce the ability of the US to weaponize the dollar. And this, in his opinion, is something that will get added impetus in the wake of the Ukraine war and the sanctions that have been imposed. In his view, India should be happily willing to buy Russian oil and also be willing to sell them whatever proceeds they need. Moreover, he believes, that we should also be willing to settle Russia’s external payment obligations.
Another big change, in his opinion, that is going to happen now is that every country is going to increase its arms expenditure. We are going to see increased military outlays by countries across the world. This means that they will cut back on the money that is required for other things which in turn will have its own implications for economic activity. He also believes that there will now be a greater investment in nuclear energy in that we will see a big resurgence in nuclear power. Therefore, in all these areas, there is going to be a major shift even if the talks succeed and the war in Ukraine comes to an end.
Acknowledgment: Palak Bothra is a research intern at IMPRI.