US President Joe Biden’s admonishment of India for its "shaky" stand on Russia with regard to its invasion of Ukraine was bound to come. As the leader of the free world who is proactive in keeping Nato and EU nations united in its stand against Russia and towards which he is travelling to Brussels and Warsaw, Mr Biden had to bring out the contradiction in India’s neutrality -- which may have been acceptable all the way to abstaining thrice from voting at the United Nations -- and its inability to call out the unconscionable atrocities of the war that Vladimir Putin is waging.
Not voting at the UN may have been understandable considering India-Russia’s old and unbreakable ties and India’s dependence on Russian armoury, flying fighting machines and aircraft carrier, which constitute more than 60 per cent of India’s military capabilities, besides civil nuclear cooperation in power generation. The moral dilemma has grown intolerably suffocating now that the Russian forces, finding increasing Ukrainian resistance, are following their Syrian playbook of attacking hospitals, schools and civilians, including women and children, in a war of attrition.
What makes India’s quirky stand shakier is the fact that during a call with the British Prime Minister, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have agreed with Boris Johnson that "Ukraine’s integrity and territorial sovereignty must be respected," according to the British version of the conversation. Furthermore, the leaders agreed that "Russia needed to adhere to the UN charter". India has not, however, publicly aired these thoughts in a month after Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 with utter disregard for international rules-based order.
Calling for cessation of hostilities is about the most that India has done and the futility of talks is clear as Russia is trying to regroup on the ground now. Not even China, despite closeness to the Kremlin, is doing much towards stopping the war that Mr Putin began. And India’s neutrality that all but supports Russia’s indefensible invasion may even be caused by its fears over a China-Russia-Pakistan axis developing that would be too close to home for comfort.
Regardless of such geostrategic scenarios, what hits home is that as a member of the US-led Quad alliance, India remains the only nation not to condemn the abomination of the Russian war machine let loose.
What India’s reaction may be can only be guessed at if Mr Putin were to follow his Syrian playbook even more by resorting to chemical weapons, which is what the West is anticipating at the moment. The conflict could escalate due to Russia’s failure to win the war outright to which the civilian areas of Ukraine that are reduced to rubble stand tragic testimony. It is moot whether the war is unwinnable but Mr Putin has gone too far anyway to be able to call it off. In that sense at least, India’s ambivalent stand on Ukraine is not of immediate relevance though it could cost it the ties assiduously built with US in recent years that is reflected in India becoming a valued member of Quad with fellow democracies.