After a night of Russian drone attacks in Kyiv, Ukrainians, together with Indians, woke up to salute the Indian flag and celebrate our Independence Day, through performances of Indian dance and music, showing their love for India and also India’s soft power. Indians reciprocated on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day.

In contrast, as New Delhi gets ready for the G20 summit on Sep.9-10, a galaxy of leaders from far and near will arrive, but not from Ukraine. As part of G20 Russia will attend. This is because we are oblivious of the role of Ukrainians in Indo-Soviet friendship, something Russia has unapologetically usurped to cater to its national interests.

The share and role of all 14 former Soviet republics are ignored. This notion of post-Soviet space is key to how India perceives the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s resistance and worldwide solidarity – today’s cause célèbre.

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2023 is the Year of India, G20 chair, and a major global actor. Since the beginning of the 21st century, India has been transcending ideological differences and working with countries to draw a new roadmap for multilateralism, breathing in some air of change. Some principles of Indian foreign policy are rooted in history – anti-colonialism, nonalignment and multilateralism – and they remain unchanged, consistent, time tested over decades. These principles, coupled with economic power, have made India a voice of the Global South.

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In June during a televised broadcast President Putin held up what he said was the 2022 “peace agreement” that Ukraine had “thrown aside.” Newly acquired documents give context to his claim.

Apart from traditional issues, like the UNSC reform, the North-South Divide and international financial system, India meets newer challenges by participating in western Quad, G-7 as well as non-Western BRICS, SCO. No doubt Indian policies are finely calibrated, but the same ambiguity and inconsistency are seen that characterized Indian diplomatic response to Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1980. The way it responded to the Brezhnev doctrine, it responds today to Putin’s expansion. Not much has changed.

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There are knots to untie. India’s Russo-centric policy towards the post-Soviet space lies in stark contrast to the more pragmatic evolving policy towards the US and the West. Obsession of old school diplomats, both in Delhi and Kyiv, with the love-hate triangle play “India-Russia-Ukraine” as well as “Ukraine-India-Pakistan” should be forsaken as an infantile, obsolete baggage of distorted history. A lot of time, political will and diplomatic creativity are needed to change these.

So far, India manages the “Ukraine crisis” by providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, renewing foreign office consultations and announcing adherence to the UN Charter, diplomatic resolution of disputes, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. Everyone recalls PM Narendra Modi’s outcry — “This is not an era of war!” — to Russian President Putin at the SCO Samarkand meet in autumn 2022.

But, India did not join the West in sanctioning Russia. Instead, it purchased crude oil and never publicly condemned Russian aggression. Although mentioning war, aggression, etc, none of its statements ever named Russia, the aggressor. Indian reaction to Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 and the war that followed is similar to how Nehru government reacted to Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956.

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Ukrainians cannot match their expectations of India’s humanist traditions with these pragmatic ways. India’s approach is hailed by some as “sitting on the fence”, hypocritical and opportunistic. India buys cheap Russian oil, then refines and sells it to Western countries and even to Ukraine. Ukraine’s State Customs Services data shows India is the lead exporter of crude and oil products to Ukraine for 2022, followed by Lithuania and Bulgaria.

But the issues of oil trade, sanctions against Russia, etc open a “can of worms” that exposes the West, East, North and South equally. Experts who better understand India’s neutrality welcome its role in negotiations on the 10-point Ukrainian Peace Formula in Copenhagen last June and in Jeddah in July, along with 42 states. The 10 points deal with global economic and energy issues; some focus on Ukraine.

Global politics and economics are inseparable, conflicts lead to “securitization” or viewing all issues through the prism of security in bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. In this context, the G20 summit puts international political responsibilities on India. The top issue is Ukraine.  India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar on August 16 explained that Ukraine is not invited because G20 deals with economic issues, not conflict resolution, for which there is the UNSC.

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True, a post-pandemic world is affected by serious energy, food security and health problems. But China and Russia veto Ukraine-related resolutions in UNSC. How does that help? Presence of Russia in G20, no matter how correct the formal criteria are, without inviting Ukraine, is appeasement. India does not gain either, because in any trilateral alignment with Russia or China, India is always the third, never first or second power. 

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reached out to Indian PM Modi time and again. During a meeting on the sidelines of the G-7 Hiroshima summit, Modi assured to do “whatever possible in his capacity” to help Ukraine. Thus, G20 summit is a logical test of what India can do to help Ukraine. Last year, Indonesia invited Ukraine to G20 Bali summit, where Zelenskyy presented his 10-point Peace Formula, setting a milestone in history.

The present G20 summit aims at generating mild, carefully worded statements, acceptable to all. Contrasting the glow of Bohemian crystals of the world’s largest chandelier in Bharata Mandapam, the main venue of G20, hopes are dimmed, how, without Ukraine, the G20 summit will be groundbreaking for the greatest post-World War civilizational crisis. But, with Ukraine, the summit would have the fine balance that India is regarded for, could have rekindled hopes and be crowned with more success, which it rightly deserves. 

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Mridula Ghosh is a Kyiv based professor of International Relations, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. 

This article is reprinted with the author’s permission from The Times of India of Aug. 31, 2023. See the original here.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments (2)

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Joseph Swanson
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India is typical deliberately indifferent global south communist influenced nation. modi has his own people killed in mass if they so much as peacefully assemble to express their grievances with the government, modi even goes as far as having the homes of people burned down to the ground.criminals of a feather flock together.  modi has found a friend in putin.

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Imokru2
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What is more useless than the nations in the G-8? 12 more of them.

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