As a new Great Game is played in Ukraine, India awaits the next Chinese mishap on its borders


We know all the more after the Ukrainian imbroglio that we are traveling a lonely road watching China. The weakening of the Western alliance has emboldened China

A Ukrainian woman reacts after arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland. Since Russia launched its offensive on Ukraine, more than 200,000 people have been forced to flee the country (Representative image). PA

A great new game is being played in Ukraine. This has diverted attention and attention from the West away from the Indo-Pacific, from the rise of China and the threat China poses to the existing world order. Already, we are talking about the Quad as a vehicle for vaccine diplomacy and economic cooperation! India’s partners in Quad scold the Russian Federation for violating the rules-based order and blame naked imperialism. They see the Chinese market as an alternative to Russian products. Where does that leave India?

From a Western and European point of view, the events of the past few days are a powerful reminder that conflicts do not always have to be fought in distant countries. Indeed, the decline of the “Pax Americana” and the hasty and disastrous retreat from Kabul on August 15, 2021, leaving ordinary Afghans who had welcomed Western forces to their fate, was a stark reminder to India, a partner strategic key of the United States and the EU, that she was alone in any military confrontation with China.

The debacle in Ukraine has been brewing since 2014. Emboldened by the NATO membership of the Baltic states at a time when Vladimir Putin was not in power, President Joe Biden, attacked by Republicans for the debacle in Afghanistan and faced in a difficult Senate election in November, saw in Ukraine’s application for NATO membership an excellent electoral bet for national purposes.

A Cold War warrior, Biden ignored repeated Russian protests that this was a red line that could not be ignored. Russia would not accept NATO nuclear weapons on the Ukraine-Russia border. Foreign Ministry experts, ignorant of European history, ignored that large parts of Ukraine have been Russian for centuries. Ukrainians come from the same soil and are fellow Slavs. Their religion is Orthodox and from the 18and century fought the invaders with the Russians. For Russians, Ukraine was and will remain part of their history, culture and civilization.

Buoyed by pledges of support, President Zelensky was in no mood to back down. Ukraine had already concluded a partnership agreement with NATO within the framework of the “NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partnership”. Zelensky incorrectly calculated that NATO would provide military support in the unlikely event of a Russian incursion. Indeed, he repeatedly asserted that a Russian attack was neither imminent nor imminent.

India was in a dilemma. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, his first challenge was responding to an extremely one-sided resolution threatening action against Russia under Chapter VII. This reference was removed to accommodate China and to prevent a second veto from China. Despite a heated explanation of vote after the vote, India found itself in the uncomfortable company of China while abstaining on the resolution. India’s foreign policy options seemed increasingly limited.

Adding to the India conundrum is the fate of more than 24,000 Indian nationals, mostly young students, left stranded in basements or bunkers across Ukraine. With the airspace closed, the only option was to transport them, with the support of Ukrainian authorities and Russian forces, to neighboring countries, from where they could be airlifted to India.

The presence of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Moscow as Russian forces moved into Ukraine, watching him discuss bilateral issues with a panoramic-faced President Putin, was an unpleasant reminder of how India’s reliable friend in all weathers had moved towards an anti-Western and anti-Indian Front. Firmly in the Chinese camp, internationally isolated, Putin would move inexorably away from India.

Where would India be in such a situation regarding a CAATSA waiver on the S-400? How could we procure the spare parts for its huge inventory of Russian weapons and how could India circumvent the tightening grip of Western and American sanctions?

The answer lies in diplomacy. Today, India holds a unique position as an honest broker to both sides. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with President Putin and President Zelensky. India is in constant contact with American, French and European leaders. Prime Minister Modi called for an end to violence and a return to diplomacy after his conversation with Zelensky. The Americans also changed their earlier hard line by insisting that India join the Western position. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed Washington’s understanding of India’s relationship with Moscow as “separate” from that shared by the United States with India.

India should now use its influence to persuade the two sides to reach an agreement that would guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty in areas outside the breakaway republics and a guarantee for Ukraine “that no dagger from NATO points to the heart of Russia”. Crippling sanctions should also be removed.

In a recent article from Washington Post, Henry Kissenger, not a friend of India as we all know too well, nevertheless had valuable advice to offer the West. He said: “Too often the Ukrainian question is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and prosper, it must not be the outpost of one against the other – it must function as a bridge between them.

Kissenger added: “Ukraine has only been independent for 23 years. Not surprisingly, its leaders have not learned the art of compromise, let alone historical perspective. Viktor Yanukovych and his main political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko…represent the two wings of Ukraine and did not want to share power…Reconciliation should be sought, not factional domination…For the West, demonization Vladimir Putin is not a politician; it’s an alibi for the lack of one.

India should now forcefully use its considerable diplomatic influence and deep friendships on all sides to end the conflict and stabilize the region. The added benefit of such a solution would be to persuade India’s strategic partners, including its Quad partners, to refocus on China and the Indo-Pacific.

Even so, we know even more after the Ukrainian imbroglio that we are walking a lonely road crushing China. The weakening of the Western alliance has emboldened China. Gandhi said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

India is anxiously awaiting the next Chinese mishap on its borders. Unlike Zelensky, we know we are alone. We have always been alone. We don’t need support. We are India.

The author is a former Indian Ambassador to the Netherlands. The opinions expressed are personal.

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