- Throughout the history of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, we can see the active involvement of the EU and the US, tracing back to the Budapest Memorandum.
- Europe is faced with the challenge of securing energy for the winter as fuel prices also increase living costs.
- India and Russia have been allies through decades of change in government, geopolitical dynamics and economic advancement.
- India has maintained an open commitment to adherence to the UN Charter and its principles of the right to a state’s sovereignty.
- India has been cautious in its decision-making while keeping its people at the forefront of decision-making.
- National interest may manifest in economy, resources, territory and political power; however, they all boil down to the people’s sustenance.
In the post-Soviet world order, Russia emerged as a dominant power in the Eurasian region, whereas Ukraine was associated with the Western and European countries. Geographically, Ukraine became very significant to Russia for energy supply to Europe and countered the US presence in the region. The existence of the Russian ethnic minority in the Crimean region of Ukraine is one of the significant sources of conflict. The Russian annexation of Crimea and the recent military action created tensions between Russia and Ukraine and led to the imposition of sanctions on Russia from Western and European powers. However, India adopted a unique and neutral policy on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The main objective of this article is to analyse India’s position on the conflict with particular emphasis on energy and defence cooperation and, lastly, conclusive remarks on possible measures of conflict resolution that India can aid with while securing its national interests.
Background of the Conflict
The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and Ukraine voted for independence shortly after, giving rise to the second largest European state on the 24th of August 1991. The voting process went rampant to the extent that all regions had an overwhelming majority voting for independence, the lowest being Crimea, at approximately 57% of votes wanting freedom. With its independence, Ukraine started falling economically at an alarming rate of 10% annually due to economic and political instability and rampant corruption. We need to understand the legitimacy of the Ukrainian statehood through historical events such as admittance to the UNSC by electoral procedure pre-independence, the vote for independence and the years of internal turmoil to keep Russian involvement in their sovereignty at bay. One landmark treaty that recognises Ukrainian sovereignty is the Budapest Agreement, which has multiple implications throughout this research. As a region with the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world, Ukrainian sovereignty has been deemed a threat and thereof, to establish their independence, Ukraine signed the Budapest agreement with Russia, agreeing to be a non-nuclear power in exchange for legitimacy for their state-hood and sovereignty over their territory. The Budapest Memorandum and Ukraine and Russia also had the United Kingdom and the United States of America as signatories recognising their sovereignty.
One landmark treaty that recognises Ukrainian sovereignty is the Budapest Agreement, which has multiple implications throughout this research.
2004 saw one of the most radical presidential elections in Ukrainian history; Viktor Yanukovych, backed by the Russian Federation, was facing off against Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko presented the idea of turning westward to the EU for economic relations, which was a cornerstone of the building of Ukraine’s relationship with the EU. Through alleged electoral malpractice and manipulation, Yanukovych was elected President, and the state saw widespread discontent with the results, giving rise to what is known today as the Orange Revolution. People flooded the streets wearing orange and sporting orange banners, which was the colour brandished by the Yushchenko campaign. This forced the state to go into re-election by December, which Viktor Yushchenko won. This marked the EU-US relationships with Ukraine developing on a more positive note and also marked the beginning of the Ukrainian Crisis. Soon after that, Ukraine is considered for a Membership Action Plan (MAP), which is the process that initiates membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Russia interferes with this process and claims that Ukraine is not an “actual nation-state”, thus discouraging the US from granting Ukraine a MAP.[i] This public statement marks the Putin Administration’s blatant disregard for the Budapest Memorandum, causing some minor tensions between the heads of state of the two nations.
In 2010, Yanukovych won the election by changing his campaign plan toward building further relations with the European Union; however, after winning the elections, he went back on his campaign and started orienting Ukraine toward Russia, causing a significant setback on Ukraine’s footing in the International Community. This move gave rise to the Euromaidan protests, centred in Kyiv’s capital city. An estimated 130 people died during these protests, and Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2013. These protests mark a vital point in the Ukrainian Crisis as Russia, soon after the demonstrations, used it as a reason to deploy more troops in Crimea, a Ukrainian district with a high Russian ethnic population. Russia presents a concern for Russians in Crimea and the unstable government of Ukraine as a justification for increasing armaments. The deployment escalates to a complete seizure of Crimea, creating an International outrage on the Ukrainian sovereignty violation. The UN and EU condemn the Russian annexation of Crimea. This establishes the series of border conflicts with Russia for the next half a decade. In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President, and he presented a campaign to end the war with Russia and establish stronger EU relations. In 2021 as a part of his administrative direction, Zelensky initiated crack-downs on prominent Russian Oligarchs, including Viktor Medvedchuck, who is allegedly a close friend of Putin. Russia increases deployments on the Ukrainian border, causing tensions to escalate rapidly. In an interview with film director Oliver Stone, President Putin claimed that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people”.[ii] This sparks widespread controversy about the Putin administration looking at the reintegration of Russia and Ukraine. The districts of Donetsk and Luhansk had broken away from Ukraine in 2014 through terrorist insurgency, allegedly backed by Russia and in 2022, with the pretence of “maintaining peace”, Russia occupied and declared these regions sovereign. Days after, on the 24th of February, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine which was internationally condemned. The UNSC attempted to issue resolutions to aid the de-escalation of the war; however, Russia vetoed all resolutions against Russian interests.
As of the 4th of September 2022, the current situation in Ukraine can be looked at under three classifications; namely, Energy Crisis, Refugee Crisis and Economic Crisis, all arising as a result of the ongoing war, which has lasted for 193 days. As a small nation facing a multi-trillion dollar economy that is Russia, Ukraine couldn’t hold out too long with their economy. The trade and human resource activities have come to a halt, aides from other nations are barely managing the provision of support to its fleeing people, and military expenditure is on the rise even though there has been a call for a ceasefire. The conflict is at a place where it can’t be mediated through discourse as both nations have polar opposite goals. The idea of a “Unified Russia” that the Putin administration presents would mean establishing a pro-Russia government in Kyiv while holding onto the annexed territories. In contrast, the Zelensky administration wants Russia to move out of Ukrainian territory and compensate for the loss of resources. According to UN reports, there have been over 10 million border crossings from Ukraine to neighbouring countries, making this one of the largest refugee crises in just 193 days.[iii] The first 7 days alone saw about 1 million people flee with the bare minimum necessities and resources to sustain themselves for at most a few weeks, even if that. The Energy crisis has manifested as a nuclear disaster scare as the Russian-occupied Power plant in Zaporizhzhia has lost connection to the external power supply. However, the plant supplies power to the primary grid as one of the 6 reactors inside is still functional.[iv] Although centred around Russia and Ukraine, the current situation in Ukraine has multiple external parties involved in attempting to dissolve tensions while aiding their own national interests.
The idea of a “Unified Russia” that the Putin administration presents would mean establishing a pro-Russia government in Kyiv while holding onto the annexed territories. In contrast, the Zelensky administration wants Russia to move out of Ukrainian territory and compensate for the loss of resources.
The Role of EU, US and the UN
Throughout the history of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, we can see the active involvement of the EU and the US, tracing back to the Budapest Memorandum. Motivated by the polarisation of interests, the EU and the US have shown a particular interest in upholding Ukrainian Sovereignty. The US, through NATO, has supported Ukraine despite threats from the Putin administration during recent events. The EU, although actively trying to avoid direct conflict with Russia, has vigorously condemned the actions and presented monetary aid to Ukraine through the G7 and NATO and the EU itself. In more recent events, Germany has been at the forefront of presenting peace talks and aiding Ukraine economically with a massive 200 million euro contribution to programs aimed at supporting the displaced Ukrainian people and in the form of military aid. Berlin has provided Kyiv with quality armaments such as the combat tanks like the Leopard 2.[v] The EU’s relation with Russia regarding the conflict also manifests the other face of the Energy Crisis: the pipeline supply to the European energy supply being massively contributed through trade with Russia. This situation is an excellent example of the latent effects of war.
Europe is faced with the challenge of securing energy for the winter as fuel prices also increase living costs. It is essential to look at all interactions between states as motivated by national interest, which means the interests of the people that comprise the nation. Here a simple act of support from the EU compromises the living standards of its people for the duration of the conflict, so why did the EU take such a stand? This is where the undesirability of war comes into play. Simply because Russia is the aggressor, many countries take a stand against Russia because the costs incurred now would be infinitely lesser than the cost of war; hence the EU takes a stand to mitigate before the conflict escalates, and that can only happen if the aggressor state, in this case, Russia, agrees to de-escalate and agree to terms set by the world community. The UN voices such concerns to the world community and presents action plans for the same. The UN has managed to mediate de-escalation talks and has been barely successful at issuing temporary ceasefires.
The EU's relation with Russia regarding the conflict also manifests the other face of the Energy Crisis: the pipeline supply to the European energy supply being massively contributed through trade with Russia.
India and Russia have been allies through decades of change in government, geopolitical dynamics and economic advancement. Although strained during events, the relationship between the two countries has survived the test of time. Starting with India’s most prominent defence supplier and contributing to each other’s technological advancement by taking joint projects like Brahmos and engaging in healthy competition in the “space race”, the two countries have had a very stable relationship. However, India’s position on Ukraine is one of the many strain factors on this relationship. In 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula countries either aligned in support of Russia or condemned Russia for violating the Budapest Memorandum and various other Jurisprudences that govern International order. However, India presented a neutral stance as it didn’t want any part in what many scholars had termed the “New Cold War”. Although Russia was and has been India’s most prominent defence supplier almost consistently, the United States of America contributed 6.5 times more net trade value with India than the Russian Federation had as of 2014. An estimate would be $67 billion worth of trade by the USA instead of $10 billion worth of trade with the Russian Federation.[vi] India’s neutral stand further strained the Indo-Russian relationship, which had already been tested when the French Rafale won the bid for India’s supply for MMRCAs as opposed to the Russian MiG 35.[vii] With deteriorating defence relations, the added strain of political neutrality forced India to adjust its relationship with Russia as they were India’s largest ally in the geopolitical framework. However, this started changing with the context of energy trade, with plans for pipeline extensions to connect Russia and India in the energy market. Russia also aided India in some of its Civil Nuclear projects, such as the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
Although Russia was and has been India's most prominent defence supplier almost consistently, the United States of America contributed 6.5 times more net trade value with India than the Russian Federation had as of 2014.
Now that we understand the Indo-Russia relationship concerning defence, energy and the political avenue, we can observe that the recent events have garnered a very similar reaction from India. India maintained its neutral stance on the politics of the conflict; however, adhering to the Geneva Convention (1951), India has provided for refugees and extended humanitarian aid to Ukraine. On a public standing, India has abstained from voting on resolutions reprimanding the UN on five occasions and has maintained an open commitment to adherence to the UN Charter and its principles of the right to a state’s sovereignty. India has issued talks with both Putin and Zelensky demanding a ceasefire from both sides ever since the report of one Indian student being a casualty of bombings became an issue of national importance. Indian administration started receiving excessive pressure to condemn Russia, but India has maintained its global stance steadfast.
The position that India is holding currently is strategically advantageous but also incredibly complex to hold. While trying to maintain its relationship with Russia and reaping the benefits of the same, India is also trying to keep into account European ties which are being strained due to India’s numerous abstentions, which to some looks like a “subtle pro-Moscow” stand. When the EU put a cap on the Russian gas trade, India purchased the surplus fuel stockpile from Russia at lower costs as it served Indian National interests. This is also consistent with India’s energy relations with the Russian Federation. India has also taken to many multi-lateral talks with European leaders of state in supporting in all ways possible the people of Ukraine from a strictly humanitarian standpoint.
While trying to maintain its relationship with Russia and reaping the benefits of the same, India is also trying to keep into account European ties which are being strained due to India's numerous abstentions.
While trying to observe, understand and analyse the conflict from the Indian vantage point, this article also looked at the conflict from the point of power politics and national interest. And as such, the authors urge the readers to look at the conflict with an understanding that selflessness and empathy cannot be the basis for decision-making among International entities simply because the welfare of its people is a defining factor of each state’s actions. India has been cautious in its decision-making while keeping its people at the forefront of decision-making. National interest may manifest in economy, resources, territory and political power; however, they all boil down to the people’s sustenance. One conflict in the International Community alone can’t disregard a foreign policy built through decades of bilateral relations. Thus, the Indian Vantage point motivated by its foreign policy is justified and is a step in the right direction towards efforts to help resolve the conflict.
(About the Authors: P. Unnikrishnan is a Research Scholar at the Department of International Relations, Peace and Public Policy (IRP&PP), St. Joseph’s University (SJU), Bengaluru-Karnataka, India. Dr. Karamala Areesh Kumar teaches in the Department of International Relations, Peace and Public Policy (IRP&PP), St. Joseph’s University (SJU), Bengaluru-Karnataka, India.)
[i] Al Jazeera. (2022, the 4th of September). Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 193. Russia-Ukraine War News, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/4/russia-ukraine-war-list-of-key-events-day-193.
[ii] The Associated Press. (2019, the 20th of July). Putin: Russians and Ukrainians are “one people.” ABC News. Retrieved the 8th of September, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/putin-russians-ukrainians-people-64456532.
[iii] Reuters. (2022, the 2nd of August). Border crossings from Ukraine since the war began passes 10 mln mark – UN agency. Retrieved the 8th of September, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/border-crossings-ukraine-since-war-began-passes-10-mln-mark-un-agency-2022-08-02/.
[iv] Al Jazeera. (2022a, the 4th of September). ‘Afraid for our lives: Ukraine nuclear plant loses power. Russia-Ukraine War News | Al Jazeera. Retrieved the 8th of September, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/4/afraid-for-our-lives-ukraine-nuclear-plant-loses-power.
[v] Al Jazeera. (2022, the 4th of September). Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 193. Russia-Ukraine War News | Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/4/russia-ukraine-war-list-of-key-events-day-193.
[vi] Joshi, N., & Sharma, R. K. (2017). India–Russia Relations in a Changing Eurasian Perspective. India Quarterly, 73(1), 36–52, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48505530.
[vii] Dikshit, P. (2008). India and Russia: Revisiting the Defence Relations. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep09280.