Ukraine Conflict: India’s Balancing Act

The ongoing Ukraine conflict has brought about a change in global strategic dynamics and India has seen support rising for it at all international and multilateral forums. India is all set to take over the G20 presidency from Indonesia on December 1 this year. Indian diplomacy has been astute in capitalizing on new opportunities and security the country’s space in the global order

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

Special Feature Archive

America blames Russia for the Ukraine conflict overlooking its own history, as also that Russia rarely attempts territorial expansion unless its security is threatened, that too after establishing conditions that could lessen resistance among the local population – example being Ukraine’s Russian speaking Donbas region. It is not NATO expansion that threatens Russia.

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Ukraine was in crosshairs of American politicians and Pentagon since long; the 2005 US-Ukraine deal for Ukraine to research, develop and store dangerous pathogens (bio weaponry), America’s 2017 move to build a Naval Base for Ukrainian Navy in Ochakiv between Crimea and Odessa, Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, earning $50,000 monthly from a Ukrainian firm when Joe was Vice President, and Joe Biden threatening Ukraine’s then President  Petro Poroshenko with assassination if he cooperated with the Donald Trump administration, after Trump was elected US President but awaited swearing in. These are but a few examples.

The Ukraine conflict is a financial bonanza for the American arms industry and the energy sector though it is backfiring on the West economically and energy-wise. But the US is bent upon fuelling it more. The Biden administration is trying its best to isolate Russia,  expand NATO and EU, integrate with the Middle East, enhance relations with certain Central Asian Republics, holding Democracy Summit leaving out Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan but inviting partner in terrorism – Pakistan. The whole focus is to rally the world under a US-centric new world order under the euphemism ‘Rule Based Order’; but running a global autocracy with rules that further US national interests.

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The Ukraine conflict is a financial bonanza for the American arms industry and the energy sector

It is to India’s credit that it has not only resisted repeated Western pressure to “fall in line” but has conveyed the message that with its growing strategic, diplomatic and economic heft, India cannot be cowed down from chalking out its own narrative and exercising strategic autonomy in the manner it wants.

The barrage of warnings or rather threats from the US and European leaders to reduce energy supplies from Russia and cut down on trade have been continuous, albeit the intensity has somewhat reduced. But India has unequivocally conveyed that it  will do what is best for the country. The CAATSA waiver by the US House of Representatives is good but a sweet pill since the final authority for the waiver is the U.S. President and that process could still take a few months considering the procedures involved.

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The CAATSA waiver by the House of Representatives also mentions the need for India to reduce its weapons dependency from Russia in favour of the US. But India has already reiterated that it will stay the course of diversification, with the  ultimate goal of indigenization, ‘Make in India’, inviting all countries to participate. Why should India not go for Russian weaponry or  collaboration, if considered best especially since Russia is also involved in our sensitive sectors like nuclear power?

India gets cheap Russian crude to ensure its manufacturing industry competes with China’s which sources energy at half the free market rate. India has no reason to suffer from inflation due to a feud between the US-NATO and Russia. It is hilarious to see the US literally begging for more oil at the recent Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia; a country which the West accused of human rights violations and an undemocratic regime. Ironically, instead of permitting full flow of oil and gas, the US is plunging the world in inflation – why should India abide by these diktats? Union Minister Hardeep Puri told Parliament on March 15 that India will get oil from Venezuela as also from other countries under sanction. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also said, in an interview, that when the US-EU continues to draw Russian gas, pointing fingers at India is not right.

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India has not only resisted repeated Western pressure to “fall in line” but has conveyed the message that with its growing strategic, diplomatic and economic heft, it cannot be cowed down from chalking out its own narrative

Europeans need to introspect what is the gain by not addressing genuine security concerns of Russia – making Europe the battle ground of big powers? The ambiguity of the US taking on Russia or China directly has been erased in the Ukraine, the chances of any country being abandoned when it suits the US has emerged strong. This is not only relevant to countries like Taiwan and Japan but also India, which the Western arms industry would like to become the ‘Ukraine of Indo-Pacific’. It would be naïve to expect direct US involvement in an India-China conflict beyond selling weapons. Fallout of this realization is already witnessing closer relationships between India and Japan.

China’s recent warning that it will respond with force if Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives visits Taiwan, has jolted Washington with President Biden saying he will talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping, as if the latter will not reiterate the warning. The US finds itself in a Catch 22 situation of its own making – just like the Ukraine conflict. Cancelling Pelosi’s Taiwan trip would be cowardice while the US would not dare to send her and risk the aircraft getting shot down.

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At the recent G7 Leaders Summit in Germany (June 26-28), Joe Biden and other leaders launched the Partnership for Global Infrastructure (PGII) under which $600 billion are aimed to be raised in private and public funds over five years to finance infrastructure in  developing countries India. After the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, PGII is another attempt to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The ambiguity of the US taking on Russia or China directly has been erased in the Ukraine, the chances of any country being abandoned when it suits the US has emerged strong

Under one of the PGII projects, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) will invest up to $30 million in Omnivore Agritech and Climate Sustainability Fund 3, an impact venture capital fund that invests in entrepreneurs building the future of agriculture, food systems, climate and the rural economy in India. The Fund seeks to invest in companies that increase food security and promote both climate resilience and climate adaptation in India, and improve profitability and agricultural productivity of small farms.

The first virtual summit of the I2U2 leaders on July 14, 2022, gave an impetus to the group that brings India together with Israel, the US and the UAE. I2U2 has a distinctly economic orientation; the initial focus being on joint investments in six sectors; water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security.

The food security project of I2U2 will witness a $2 billion  investment by UAE to develop a network of integrated food parks in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, incorporating climate-smart technologies. India will provide the land and Israel will provide advanced hydroponics technology. The project will give a new dimension to the India-UAE food corridor project in the offing.

The clean energy project of I2U2 envisages a hybrid renewable energy facility in Dwarka (Gujarat) with an investment of $330 million, involving 200 MW of wind and 100 MW of solar power, with battery storage of 100-500 MW. UAE-based companies are expected to provide the capital and technology. The US and Israel are expected to help make India a global hub for alternate supply chains in the renewable energy sector. Beyond these two specific projects, I2U2 will also look to mobilize private capital and technical expertise in other areas that are important from the Indian perspective.

In a significant step, the Reserve Bank of India, on July 12, permitted Indian banks and the international trade community to invoice and settle transactions in Indian Rupee (INR). INR can be made an International Currency in two ways: one, by making rupee a stable currency to enable International trade or to keep it as an asset, and; two, by exporting more to other countries, so that other countries use these two modes of internationalization are not mutually exclusive.

I2U2 has a distinctly economic orientation; the initial focus being on joint investments in six sectors; water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security

Following the US actions of expanding NATO-EU, selective switching of the SWIFT system and freezing accounts in Central Banks of target countries, there is speculation about BRICS being expanded while Russia has proposed an alternate to the SWIFT system. Iran has proposed an altogether new currency for BRICS. India will naturally secure its own national interests.

With its strategic location in the Indo-Pacific and the changed dynamics with the ongoing Ukraine conflict, support of rising India is sought in practically all international and multilateral forums. India will take over the G20 presidency from Indonesia on December 1, 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to host the next G20 meeting in October or November next year. The venue reportedly is likely to be Ladakh.

India went all out to provide humanitarian relief to Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Afghanistan, and has contributed $5 million to UN agency working for Palestinian refugees, all of which has been received well and appreciated globally. Our diplomatic mission in Afghanistan has also reopened. Indian diplomacy has been remarkably astute in capitalizing on new opportunities and securing India’s own space in the global order.

But the big kink is in our China policy. India faulted by not standing up and bluntly blaming China in 2020 for the aggression in Ladakh. Conversely, China blamed India from day one, cashing in on our political statements that “we too keep going across”. India also strategically blundered in vacating the Kailash Range in its own territory, not even linking it with Chinese withdrawal from Depsang and Demchok. As a result, India has lost control of   thousand square kilometers of territory (not counting Kailash Range) and China has signaled the status quo.

Now, China has unveiled plans to construct a second highway (G695 national expressway) through Aksai Chin along the border with India by 2035. According to South China Morning Post, this expressway may also go near Depsang Plains, Galwan Valley and Hot Springs on the LAC. This should indicate to us what Beijing’s future plans are for Ladakh because China will need ‘depth’ to secure this new highway. We need stronger foreign policy against China, not usual Ministry of External Affairs EA statements, saying we have seen X or Y reports.

-The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda