NEW DELHI, Sept 28 (Reuters) – India is articulating its opposition to the Ukrainian war more forcefully to counter criticism that it is weak on Russia, but it still has not held Moscow responsible for the invasion and will not change Its policy of importing cheap Russian oil and coal.
At their first face-to-face meeting since February 2. The 24th invasion saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi tell President Vladimir Putin earlier this month that “today’s era is not an era of war” – the clearest stance New Delhi has taken on the conflict.
India’s foreign minister followed up at the UN Security Council last week, calling the trajectory of the war in Ukraine “very worrying” and the risk of nuclear escalation “particularly anxious”.
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Analysts say the shift in New Delhi, while subtle, reflects concerns about the rising economic costs of the conflict and how it will affect India. Russia has mobilized its military for the first time since World War II, marking a major escalation in a conflict that has roiled markets and threatened a global recession.
In addition, India is concerned that the war is pushing Russia towards China, which has a worrisome relationship with New Delhi, analysts said. India also hopes its stronger approach will help it deal with criticism from Western allies that it is too close to Moscow.
PS Raghavan, chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Council and former ambassador to Russia, said India had been seeking to end the hostilities in Ukraine but was now taking a more edgy stance publicly.
“This goes against the narrative that both India and China are doing the same thing – China is supporting Russia, while India is sitting by the wall and is supporting Russia,” Raghavan told Reuters.
“Our stance is very different, it’s not just supporting Russia. We have a certain line of cooperation with Russia, and we have to stick to it. Defense is the most important, but so is oil. Fertilizer imports have also increased. The point is that if We can buy cheap energy, and we’ll buy it.”
India and Russia have enjoyed deep ties for decades: Russia accounted for $5.51 billion of the $12.4 billion India spent on arms imports between 2018 and 2021.
Since the war, Russia has gone from a fringe player to India’s third-biggest oil supplier, buying about 10 times more than a year earlier thanks to low prices. Meanwhile, the value of Indian coal imports from Russia has quadrupled over the same period.
“We get some benefits from dealing with Russia, we have an economic advantage,” Raghavan said. “So let’s do it. That’s what we’re doing, but that doesn’t mean that everything we’ve done to Russia is good.”
“The Peaceful Side”
Analysts said India’s sharper stance would not hurt relations with Russia.
“India has no intention of breaking with Russia right now,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi.
“The bridge to Russia is not going to be destroyed anytime soon, but what may happen is that there may be less traffic on the bridge,” he added, referring to India’s push to diversify military imports and boost domestic production effort.
Russia’s foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on India’s position.
However, after a meeting between Indian Foreign Minister Subramaniam Jashankar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New York on Saturday, Russia said the two ministers stressed “on all issues of mutual concern” the firm will to strengthen bilateral interaction”.
India’s foreign ministry did not respond to an email seeking comment on the matter, but Jashankar told the UN General Assembly on Friday that New Delhi was committed to diplomacy and dialogue.
“As the conflict in Ukraine continues to unfold, we are often asked which side we are on,” he said again, without mentioning Russia. “India is on the side of peace and will stand firmly there.”
Analysts said India’s recent announcement was welcomed by the United States without any negative reaction from Russia — a diplomatic balance not always easy to achieve for New Delhi, which has strategic ties to both countries.
“The target audience seems to have embraced the message positively – namely Western governments and the general public, including India,” Unnikrishnan said.
“The so-called target of criticism, Russia, has also taken it in stride.”
Analysts say New Delhi is concerned that if Putin is further cornered as the war progresses, Russia could come closer to China. Relations between India and China have been strained since deadly border clashes in the western Himalayas in 2020.
“I feel that India is increasingly aware that Russia is hurting itself at the expense of Indian national security,” said Avinash Paliwal, senior lecturer in international relations at SOAS, University of London.
“The Sino-Russian relationship is so skewed towards Beijing that … as far as India’s concerns are concerned, if there is a serious conflict in the Himalayas (between India and China), Russia is unlikely to be involved.”
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Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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