New Delhi: India’s decision to abstain from voting at the UN Security Council against Russia’s war on Ukraine stems from a deep-rooted grudge against the role Western players as well as the UN have played in safeguarding New Delhi’s own national security interests — be it in relation to Jammu and Kashmir, Bangladesh, or for that matter, China.
On Friday, India’s permanent representative to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti, chose to do what India has always done traditionally whenever it was expected to take a stance against Russia. India abstained on a US-sponsored UNSC resolution that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine. Tirumurti “regretted” that the “path of diplomacy was given up” and urged all parties to “return to it.”
In the 15-member council, the resolution received 11 votes in favour and one vote against (Russia), with three abstentions (India, UAE, China).
“By abstaining, India retained the option of reaching out to relevant sides in an effort to bridge the gap and find the middle ground, with an aim to foster dialogue and diplomacy,” official sources said.
The source added that an earlier draft of the resolution had proposed moving it under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides the framework within which the Security Council may take enforcement action. This provision was dropped in the final version that was put to vote.
India also issued an Explanation of Vote afterwards, in which it called for “respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”
When India raised issue of territorial integrity and sovereignty to UNSC in 1948
On 1 January, 1948, in a letter to the UNSC, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru urged the council to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir, and “to call upon Pakistan to put an end immediately to their act of aggression against India.”
The British intervened and, without keeping India in the room, they accommodated Pakistan’s counter-response and passed a resolution that led to the establishment of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), followed by a mandate to conduct a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Our position is in our interest. We need to look at history and see what had happened with us back in 1948 when we took the issue of territorial integrity and sovereignty to the UNSC. The UNSC did not respond to our complaint and allowed Pakistan to occupy our territory, which continues till today,” Asoke Mukerji, a former Indian ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in New York, told ThePrint.
Mukerji said, “We have to factor in what is the role of the international community and the UNSC in getting a political settlement. Chapter VI of the UN Charter gives a detailed roadmap on how diplomacy should be used by the UNSC to get a political settlement to any dispute. The draft resolution did not address this issue at all, despite all the details contained in the Minsk Agreements, which were endorsed by the UNSC resolution in 2015.”
The Minsk Agreements were two accords signed in 2014 and 2015 in an attempt to quell the violence between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists.
Vijay Nambiar, who was India’s permanent representative to the UN in New York (2002-2004) as well as a deputy national security advisor of India, said, “On India abstaining from voting at the UN against Russia over Ukraine, we have to look at this move from the point of view of how we have worked with Russia, and the support it has traditionally provided to us from the time of the Soviet Union and since.”
Nambiar, who was also India’s envoy to Pakistan, said, “The only P5 country that helped us on some of our most important concerns has been Russia. Russia has been our steady supporter on our national security concerns, particularly with regard to J&K. Thus, it is important for us also to be similarly sensitive to Russia’s national security concerns.” The P5 countries are the five permanent members of the UNSC — China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US.
He added, “India has been strongly supportive of the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty of states, and we cannot be seen as drifting away from these principles. So we have supported the statement of the secretary general (on Ukraine) and, largely, we have supported the idea of the need for a diplomatic solution.”
India’s support for Russia on Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan & Cambodia
As a time-tested partner of Moscow, India historically refrained from calling out Russia when it moved to suppress the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring in 1968.
“The Hungarian and Czech crises were among the most traumatic events in the USSR’s history in Eastern Europe since the Soviet-Yugoslav crack in 1948,” notes Samuele Vasapollo in his paper written for the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russia.
According to Vasapollo, both these countries were opposed to communist rule. “Widespread and chronic problems of the USSR administration were extensively present in Prague as much as in Poland, Hungary and neighbouring countries, such as food shortages and continuous repression linked to the Soviet secret police, who made large use of violence and intimidation to prevent any internal unrest,” he writes.
Interestingly, Jairam Ramesh in his book, A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon, notes that Menon, who was India’s special representative to the UN in 1957, chose to ignore Nehru’s “instructions not to appear supportive of the Soviet stance” in the case of Hungary. But the Russians later responded to India’s move by abstaining on a call made by the UNSC pushing India to conduct a plebiscite in Kashmir.
As defence minister from 1957 to 1962, Menon would play a significant role in setting up India’s arms industry with the help of the Russians.
The year 1979 was also crucial for India-Russia ties, which were tested once more on the table of the UN.
In September that year, India’s ambassador to the UN, Brajesh Mishra, tried to play a balancing act between China, Southeast Asian countries and the USSR over the ousting of the Pol Pot regime from Cambodia by a Vietnamese intervention. Russia and Vietnam were accused of imposing a war of aggression on the Kampuchean people at that time.
That was also the year when the USSR invaded Afghanistan on 24 December, 1979. A month later, in January 1980, India, then under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was accused of “endorsing” the USSR’s move as New Delhi once again supported Moscow.
India told the UN General Assembly that the Soviet troops had entered Kabul on the request of Afghanistan’s communist Hafizullah Amin government.
When the UNSC did not recognise the 1971 Bangladesh war
Addressing a lecture on ‘India in UN 1971’, Mukerji had noted how India did not find any support from the US before the UNSC adopted Resolution 307 on 21 December, 1971, and had to collaborate with the USSR, France and the UK.
“The resolution called for a ceasefire, withdrawal of the armed forces of India and Pakistan from each other’s territories, and the deployment of UN observers,” he said, noting that, “the Soviet Union proposed a draft resolution which called for a political settlement in East Pakistan as a prerequisite for the cessation of hostilities.”
India abstained during 2014 Crimean invasion too
In early 2014, a massive political crisis erupted in Ukraine’s eastern and southern parts. In March 2014, Russian troops entered the Crimean region, before formally annexing the peninsula. Crimeans voted to join Russia in a disputed local referendum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the need to protect the rights of Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Crimea and southeast Ukraine. The crisis heightened ethnic divisions, and two months later pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine held a referendum to declare independence from Kyiv, notes the New York-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
Hardeep Singh Puri, former Indian envoy to the UN, who is now a Union minister, notes in his book Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and The Politics of Chaos that on 6 March, 2014, former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, who was then the national security advisor, said, “There are … legitimate Russia … interests involved, and we hope … there is a … resolution to them.”
Later on, in December 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited New Delhi for annual summit talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he was unofficially accompanied by the Acting President of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, which upset the US.
Ties with the US to be impacted after Ukraine vote?
In a joint statement issued by the US Mission to the UN, following the vote on Ukraine Thursday, Washington and other 50 countries who had supported action against Russia said that they would now take the matter to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), “where the Russian veto does not apply and the nations of the world will continue to hold Russia accountable.”
However, this may also impact India’s bilateral ties with the US, its strategic partner. India is a major defence partner of the US and also a key ally in the Indo-Pacific strategic construct.
“Washington should recognize that our abstention reflected our own national interests in advancing both the need and the space for a diplomatic resolution of this crisis. Our abstention is a clear indication that we do not want a second Cold War. Countries like India and the UAE, which abstained on the draft resolution, explained why we prioritise the use of diplomacy to defuse the crisis,” Mukerji said.
According to Nambiar, “On expressing its position forthrightly, India has been able to hold its own historically at such crucial times like this. We are conscious that we need to be careful how we move forward.”
“When the resolution now goes to the UNGA, my guess is we will again abstain but in our statement, we will have to call for restraint, respect for national aspirations of all countries and also about self-determination of peoples. This is true irrespective of our position on J&K. Our position has always been of support to self-determination for peoples under colonial and alien domination,” he said.
He added, “While we recognise that our relations with the US have evolved considerably and we have to handle our relations with them with sensitivity, they also know that when it comes to actually supporting our interests, it has always been Moscow that has come forward and not Washington.”
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)