Throughout the war in Ukraine, India refused to support US and Western sanctions against Russia. This comes despite India becoming an increasingly important US security partner in the Indo-Pacific as Washington and New Delhi work together to curb Chinese aggression and expansionism. What explains their discrepancy in Ukraine?
The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has previously described the relationship between Russia and India as a "special, privileged strategic partnership." This relationship was recently strengthened when President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 6 in New Delhi. The two leaders extended the program of military-technical cooperation until 2031 and signed a number of bilateral defense agreements, including an agreement on the production of weapons. Putin and Modi have frequent meetings and annual conferences.
India's decision to choose a side in the Russian-Ukrainian war was influenced by its strong dependence on Russia. Russia and India also have close military ties, as New Delhi imports military equipment from Moscow, including missile defense systems. In addition, it can be assumed that such purchases will continue in the future, and, therefore, such ties are not easy to break. Thus, India's reluctance to support the Western camp in Ukraine was a conscious choice.
Moreover, if New Delhi cut ties with Russia, Moscow would naturally be attracted to India's adversaries in the region, Pakistan and China. This will strengthen ties between China, Russia and Pakistan, possibly to the detriment of India.
At present, India strongly condemns the war and expresses concern about the threat of nuclear war. However, despite Modi telling Putin that "today's era is not an era of wars," India has not held Russia responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. This position of neutrality was beneficial to India, since New Delhi still has access to Russian oil. Since the beginning of the war, Russia has become the third largest supplier of oil to India.
While India's current position is beneficial for New Delhi, there are risks. First, New Delhi is concerned that Russia could move closer to China as the war progresses. Secondly, Russia may demand more from India than mere neutrality. As the war continues, this possibility will grow.
It is clear that the most appropriate option for India is to remain neutral. India cannot choose either the Russian or the Ukrainian side in this conflict. The choice of Russia over Ukraine will displease the United States and have an economic impact on India. In addition, India needs US support to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region. Alternatively, New Delhi's support for Ukraine and denunciation of Russia could lead to turbulence in Russian-Indian relations. It would also cause serious damage to India's military and energy needs.