The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has once again highlighted the brutality of war. The United States and its allies have imposed a flurry of sanctions on Russia including those on oil exports and use of the SWIFT system. Almost all major western companies operating in Russia have withdrawn as a consequence of this. This was followed by multiple motions in the United Nations against Russia.
In response to this, Russia has announced that it would no longer accept ‘compromised currencies’ such as dollar and euro for exports. This has led to a sharp recovery in the ruble after it had crashed earlier as European countries dependent on Russian oil will be forced to purchase rubles.
India on its part has successfully withdrawn all its nationals from the conflict zone and called on both Russia and Ukraine to aim for a peaceful resolution. New Delhi has followed its long-standing strategy of non-alignment. It has abstained from voting on all UN resolutions against Russia. It has continued to buy oil (even nominally increasing purchases) from Russia and has also continued on its plan to purchase S-400 missiles.
This has been India’s approach since Independence and is largely supported by all sides of the political spectrum. However, there seem to be a bit of enthusiasm of late, especially on social media, to throw our lot with one side. Throwing away the cornerstone of our foreign policy is a bad idea today due to the following reasons.
West’s problems, India’s stance
The US, besides being weary of war from its interventions in the Arab world, is facing unprecedented polarisation and isolationist tendencies domestically. This coupled with massive national debt and budget deficits have severely weakened its ability and will to play hardball on global stage. The European Union is reeling from Brexit and internal divisions is most likely to focus on Russia in the immediate future in response to the Ukrainian adventure.
Russia faces a declining economy and recent sanctions by the West, which have hogged down its ability to be a global player.
Thus, throwing our lot in with any of these powers is a risky bet. However, in the age of social media and the internet, it is important that we focus on communicating the non-alignment to not only the leaders of all the world but also to the public. It does not take long for a trend on Twitter to turn into a political talking point and then into policy, hence it is vital that India communicates and ensures that the world understands the reason behind its stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
This is especially important since, while Russia has applauded what it called India’s independent stance, India’s actions have upset some in the UK and US. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has warned India about being on the ‘wrong side of history’. US Deputy NSA Daleep Singh too has said that the US would not like to see rapid increase in oil exports from Russia to India. He added that Russia would not defend India if the LAC were to be breached again. The US is also not pleased by the prospect of India-Russia trade being carried out in local currencies because it challenges the hegemony of the US dollar.
In view of these statements, it is vital that western public as well leadership understand India’s position and the reasoning behind it. They must know, for instance, how severely India’s defence capabilities would be hampered if it were to comply western expectations of cutting off ties with Russia.
Twitteratis who are ‘ready to bear’ high oil prices must understand that each rise in the price of oil is much dearer to the common Indian than to the common people of the West due to the vast income inequalities.
The communication required from the Indian government is already being relayed. Now it is up to Indians to communicate this to the world and ensure that everyone is on the same page so that our non-aligned status remains unaffected.
The author is a student at Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. Views are personal