New Delhi: The sudden meeting of leaders from the four Quad nations this week brought out the differences among the partners out in the open, with India, as expected, refusing to condemn Russia or its aggression against Ukraine.
The Quad meeting Thursday, which was the third since March 2021, saw some strong utterances by US President Joe Biden and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who were vociferous in the grouping’s objective to uphold territorial sovereignty and integrity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi stayed silent and like Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he chose to only align itself with the joint statement and not say anything separately on the issue. But unlike India, Australia has taken a clear position of supporting Ukraine thereby imposing tough sanctions on Russia.
During the Quad meet, PM Kishida was the most vocal. “Unilateral changes to the status quo by force or coercion like the recent Russian aggression against Ukraine are also unacceptable in the Indo-Pacific region. It is critically important for us to bring about a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
The first Quad Summit was held virtually in March 2021 followed by an in-person meeting in Washington DC in September 2021. The next in-person summit is expected to be held in Tokyo in the coming months.
The latest 70-minute meet was called in a rush in the wake of the raging Ukraine invasion by Russia, with “increasing fears of the conflict turning into a nuclear war thereby changing the map of Europe forever”, a top diplomatic source told ThePrint.
The main agenda of the summit was to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to have a clear and correct assessment of where the partners stand because this will have a direct impact on the Indo-Pacific, which is where the Quad mainly operates, diplomatic sources said.
Sources added that if all countries, especially the “like-minded democracies”, do not speak against Russia in one voice then it will become the “stylebook” for its allies, most importantly, for China.
Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, director, Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology, Observer Research Foundation, said: “The fact that there was no condemnation of Russia in the joint statement (issued after the Quad meet) has brought out the differences within the Quad leaders. Differences are becoming louder and clearer.”
India’s China worry and question of territorial sovereignty
According to diplomatic sources, India’s silence on the entire issue by way of its abstentions from voting against Russia at the United Nations will send out “extremely wrong” signals to China, which may be counterproductive for New Delhi.
India has been constantly abstaining from voting against any resolution that seeks to punish Russia for its actions. Last week, it abstained from the voting at the UN General Assembly, breaking away from 149 nations that voted for a resolution criticising Moscow. This came on the back of a similar stand at the UN Security Council.
According to a source, if the war turns in “Russia’s favour and Ukraine falls”, nothing will stop China to take similar actions against Taiwan and even India, with which it is already engaged in a tough border standoff that resulted in the killing of 20 Indian soldiers in June 2020.
“The differences in Quad does not augur well even for its agenda of having a rules-based world order that is aimed at China. So there is a risk of things spilling over to the Indo-Pacific theatre,” Rajagopalan said.
However, she said that compared to Russia, China is still “slightly more prudent” and it may not go for a full-fledged. “But China is watching,” she said.
“India is unwilling to call out Russia but you want others to stand up for you when against China? We need to be mindful of the dangerous trend it is setting. China is also watching now how far the US and others are willing to go and accordingly it will calculate its moves vis-à-vis Arunachal Pradesh,” she added.
On Thursday, the Quad joint statement spoke about the “ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications” in the same breath as it underlined the “continuing pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific”, implying the correlation of Russia’s actions with that of China’s increasing belligerence.
However, the statement did not mention Russia at all.
“I think Quad countries expect this posture from India, based on its history with Moscow. The Quad countries have an understanding of their areas of convergence — and divergence. The Quad has taken more of a turn to activities at the operational level, such as cooperation on non-traditional security issues like climate change and the pandemic,” said Nilanthi Samaranayake, director, strategy and policy analysis program, CNA, a US-based research organisation.
Rajagopalan agreed that India’s guarded stand is due to its huge dependence on Russian arms, but also stressed that the time has come for India to look at diversification at a greater speed.
“The world order is changing and we cannot afford to have limited strategic choices,” she said.
Japan’s support for Ukraine
In remarks made after the UN General Assembly vote condemning the war against Ukraine, President Joe Biden had entirely blamed Russia for the aggression.
“We can all see what is happening in Ukraine with our own eyes. Russia is responsible for the devastating abuses of human rights and the international humanitarian crisis that we are watching in Ukraine in real-time. There is no room for excuses or equivocation. Russia is to blame,” he had said.
After his stinging comments during the Quad meet, PM Kishida Friday held a long conversation with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During the call the Japanese PM is believed to have said that he will provide bullet-proof vests and other materials to help Ukraine and discussed the attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
“Continued dialogue with Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Informed about Russia’s nuclear terrorism at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. We both agree on the gravity of threats to global security… Together we oppose the aggressor,” Zelenskyy said in a tweet.
Continued dialogue with 🇯🇵 PM @kishida230. Informed about Russia's nuclear terrorism at the Zaporizhzhia #NPP. We both agree on the gravity of threats to global security. Thanked 🇯🇵 for the diverse assistance to 🇺🇦 & the sanctions pressure on RF. Together we oppose the aggressor
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 4, 2022
On Saturday, Zelensky spoke to Australian PM Morisson also to discuss the “course of war”.
I continue negotiations with partners. Told 🇦🇺 Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP about the course of war. As well as risks to people and the environment due to the threat to Ukrainian nuclear and chemical facilities. Thanked for the defense and humanitarian support. #StopRussia
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 5, 2022
Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Friday said Russian troops have occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, where a fire had threatened potential disaster. However, he added that there was no danger of a radiation release.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is the largest of its kind in Ukraine and contains six of the country’s 15 nuclear energy reactors, according to IAEA.
The only aspect in which the Quad spoke unitedly was to send humanitarian aid and assistance to the people of Ukraine.