Want to know why India has been soft on Russia? Take a look at its military, diplomatic and energy ties

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When global democracies lined up to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, one country was less prominent in its critique – and it was the largest democracy of them all: India.

Throughout the ongoing crisis, the Government of India has carefully avoided taking an unequivocal stance. It has failed to vote on every UN resolution dealing with the case and has refused to join the international community in economic measures against Moscow, which has issued a warning from the United States of potential circumvention of sanctions. Even statements from India condemning the reported massacre of Ukrainian civilians stopped spreading the blame on any party, and instead called for an impartial investigation.

As a researcher in Indian foreign and security policy, I know that it is complex to understand India’s position on the war in Ukraine. To a large extent, India’s decision to avoid taking a clear stance from an dependence on Russia stems from a wide range of issues – diplomatic, military and energy-related.

Moscow as a strategic partner

This attitude is not entirely new. On a number of pressing global issues, India has long avoided adopting a firm stance based on its status as an alliance-free state – one of a number of countries that are not formally allied with any power bloc.

From a strategic point of view today, New Delhi decision-makers believe they can ill afford to alienate Russia because they expect Moscow to veto any negative UN Security Council resolution on the contentious issue of the disputed Kashmir region. Since the division of the subcontinent in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, and the region remains a source of tension.

With the return to the days of the Soviet Union, India has invoked Russia’s veto at the UN to protect itself against any negative statement about Kashmir. For example, during the East Pakistan crisis in 1971 – which led to the creation of Bangladesh – the Soviets protected India from a vote of no confidence in the UN and vetoed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of troops from the disputed region.

In all, the Soviets and Russia have used their veto power six times to protect India. India has not had to rely on Russia to veto since the end of the Cold War. But with still high tensions over Kashmir in the midst of sporadic fighting, New Delhi would like to ensure that Moscow is on its side if it comes before the Security Council again.

For the most part, India’s close relationship with Russia stems from Cold War allegiance. India drifted into the Soviet circle mostly as a counterpoint to America’s strategic alliance with Pakistan, India’s subcontinent opponent.

India also hopes for Russian support – or at least neutrality – in its protracted border dispute with the People’s Republic of China. India and China share a border of more than 2,000 miles (near 3,500 km), the location of which has been contested for 80 years, including during a 1962 war that failed to resolve the issue.

Above all, India does not want Russia to side with China in the event of further clashes in the Himalayas, especially as the border conflict has resurfaced since 2020, with significant clashes between the Indian Army and China’s Liberation Army.

Russia as a supplier of weapons

India is also acutely dependent on Russia for a number of weapons. In fact, 60% to 70% of India’s conventional arsenal is of either Soviet or Russian origin.

Over the past decade, New Delhi has sought to significantly diversify its arms acquisitions. To that end, it has purchased more than $ 20 billion worth of military equipment from the United States over the past decade or so. Nevertheless, it is still unable to walk away from Russia in terms of arms sales.

To make matters worse, Russia and India have developed close military ties. For almost two decades, the two countries have co-produced the very versatile BrahMos missile, which can be fired from ships, planes or land.

India recently received its first export order for the missile, from the Philippines. This defense alliance with Russia could only be severed with significant economic and strategic costs for India.

Russia, too, unlike any Western country including the United States, has been willing to share certain types of weapons technology with India. For example, Russia has leased an Akula-class nuclear submarine to India. No other country has been willing to offer India similar weapons, partly due to concerns that the technology will be shared with Russia.

In any case, Russia is capable of supplying India with high-tech weapons at prices that are significantly lower than any Western supplier. Not surprisingly, despite considerable U.S. resistance, India chose to acquire the Russian S-400 missile defense battery.

Energy dependence

It is not only India’s defense industry that is dependent on Moscow. India’s energy sector is also inextricably linked to Russia.

Since the George W. Bush administration ended India’s status as a nuclear pariah – a term it had used to test nuclear weapons outside the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – India has developed a civilian nuclear program.

Although the sector remains relatively small in relation to total energy production, it is growing – and Russia has proven to be a key partner. Following the 2008 US-India civilian nuclear deal allowing India to participate in normal civilian nuclear trade, Russia quickly signed an agreement to build six nuclear reactors in the country.

Neither the United States nor any other western country has shown willingness to invest in India’s civilian nuclear energy sector due to a rather restrictive law on nuclear liability, which states that the manufacturer of the plant or any of its components will be liable in cases of an accident.

But since the Russian government has said it will take the necessary responsibility in the event of a nuclear accident, it has been able to enter the nuclear power sector in India. However, Western governments are reluctant to provide such guarantees to their commercial companies.

Away from nuclear power, India has also invested in Russian oil and gas fields. India’s state-run oil and natural gas commission, for example, has long been involved in the extraction of fossil fuels off Sakhalin Island, a Russian island in the Pacific Ocean. And given that India imports close to 85% of its crude oil needs from abroad – albeit only a small fraction from Russia – it is unlikely to be able to close the Russian tap.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently noted that India’s “relations with Russia have developed over decades at a time when the United States was unable to partner with India” and suggested that Washington was now ready to be that partner. . However, given the diplomatic, military and energy considerations, it is difficult to see India deviating from its balancing act over Russia at all.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Sumit Ganguly, Indiana University.

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Sumit Ganguly has received funding from the US State Department.

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