- India's evolving complex position on the war in Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has global implications, particularly in the field of diplomacy. In particular, the outbreak of the war has transformed the long-term foreign policy of the United States and the countries of the European Union in relation to the Global South.
India sees its role in the Global South as work in progress, which leads to Indian conversations on Ukraine being shaped by three points:
First, New Dehli’s neutral position on the war in Ukraine has been controversial and not understood among Western allies. The longer the war goes on, the more this upends India’s strategic calculus, where it has two unsettled problems:
(a) Chinese border clashes, the latest confrontation of which with India was in 2020, and
(b) influence in larger Asia, where India is competing against Chinese domination of the region.
2023 marked a new peak in India’s ‘intersectional global moment’, withG20 and SCO presidency, unprecedented economic growth and defense and technology ties to Western players. Simultaneously, India continued to engage with Russia, which raises a question whether its neutrality in the war may be paying off.
Second, the interpretation and practice of India’s strategic autonomy, assuming an active multi-aligning role compared to its passive stance in the Cold War, explains its current rise as a global geopolitical player. However, India is rethinking its Russia strategy following a rapprochement between Russia and China, which concerns India. This will impact India-Russia engagement going forward.
Third, India’s response to the 3 crises: fuel, food and fertilizer. 1) India has increased its purchase of Russian oil (‘fuel’) since the start of the war to 40% of its total oil imports, leading to a great trade deficit with Russia. This has impeded India from trading directly in Rupee-Ruble, as Russia does not buy nearly as much from India as India does now from Russia. As a result, trillions of Rupees are stuck in Russian accounts in Indian (and other countries’) banks. In order to continue its growth trajectory, India needs a stable world order, which explains its multi-alignment strategy, as well as a stronger alliance with Western partners, especially on the Indo-Pacific.2.What does China want?
China holds a peculiar position since the start of the war as a dominant partner of Russia, maintaining a push-pull relation with the West, while adapting to the changing international landscape. The West tries to de-couple from China but is simultaneously attempting to court it as broker in the Russia-Ukraine war. For China, Russia is a first-tier strategic player. China’s worst fear is a three-front competition: with the US globally, with India regionally, and a systemic competition with Russia. Russian bilateral relations with China and multilateral relations with the Global South are used to subjugate Ukraine (for Russia) but also to achieve other strategic goals, among which getting a third world power position after the US and China, aligning with China through the war in Ukraine in an alternative way to Western treaty-based system of alliances. This strategic calculus helps understand steps taken by China regarding its support for Russia in the war. North Korea has been established as a lifeline to provide military aid from China to Russia, preventing accountability for China.
The importance of Russia for China in the new geopolitical context is three-fold:
First, the Contrarian framework
. China is a unique Asian player that compared to other recent empires uses a hybrid strategy to become a global land and maritime hegemon. Russia gives way for Chinese strategic control over the Arctic and Eurasian landmass, it is not just a smaller partner to China.
Second, regarding Russia-China cooperation in the defence and space-industrial complex
Third, forming an alternative to Anglo-American international narratives, rules, norms and socio-economic network structures
, involving the Global South.
Inversely, China is also a crucial source of long-term continuous support to Russia in 4 domains: a) political economy
– the Chinese-Russian exchange in commodities, b) technological advancement
setting new rules of the game in global governance and diplomacy
which all impact the ways in which China and Russia forge new partnerships and alliances
. 3.Africa: a player, not a stage
The war in Ukraine has shown that African countries are not a stage, but geopolitical actors evolving diplomatic relations, asserting their choices and interests. Indeed, the war has accelerated the diversification of the continent's partnerships. While Europe and France had assumed an omnipotent role in certain regions, such as the Sahel, the difficulties of resolving the security issues there made it possible for Russia to emerge as a military partner. Russia's presence in Africa is not entirely new, dating back to the USSR and independence. Today, however, it claims to offer new methods to the African elites of combating rebellions and jihadism.
Russia's success in Africa is not a foregone conclusion. The disappearance of the Wagner militia boss has made the operations of mercenaries in Africa more complex. Nevertheless, the capture of Kidal in Mali in November 2023 was a significant victory. Added to this was Russia's superiority in the informational battle. All in all, Russia has succeeded in understanding and adapting to the multiple local contexts, relying in particular on the rise of nationalism and conservatism in certain countries on the continent.
However, faced with the war in Ukraine, African countries want to preserve their independence from Russia and refuse to alienate themselves from the West. Indeed, the continent's main concern remains economic development. 4.Europe and Ukraine
From the perspective of European allies, Ukraine is faced with potential new allies and is adapting to the situation posed by the War in Gaza. For Ukraine, the meaning of alliance is established through wartime diplomacy, via a multi-layered approach. Multi-alignment for Ukraine builds on the following 10 components.1)Coalition with International Organisations
– trying to adopt binding resolutions and showcase Russian aggression placement and its effects, underscored by global partnerships and vocality on Ukrainian issues. 2) Sanctions
against the Russian resources to fight the war. Currently comprised of 11 packages, with package 12 under negotiation, which is an incomparable feat compared to the period 2014-2021. 3) Securing undeliverables
. Developing coalitions, such as meetings in the Ramstein format, to communicate the needs for tactical weaponry and the aims for these tools in the Ukraine context, diversifying also beyond EU and US partners. 4) Financial support from external partners
, especially in the defence sector, is crucial to keep Ukraine economically afloat. 5) Justice
– the modalities and formation of a special tribunal for war-crimes and crimes against humanity, documentation of which is already being collected by activists. 6) Reconstruction
– platforms to formulate plans, raise resources and money for infrastructure reconstruction. A big challenge to freeze Russian assets and repurpose them for Ukrainian aid, as well as finding effective legal mechanisms for reconstruction. 7) Exchange of prisoners of War
. Helped through intelligence communication and collaboration. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are key partners in negotiating exchanges, but more assistance from global partners is needed. 8) Ukrainian post-war security architecture
proposals formulate 10 points going gradually from war to regulation. 9) Territorial initiatives
. For example, regarding grain and evacuations.10) Different cooperation for different partner coalitions
are needed to further engage more partners. Successes include the Grain for Ukraine Initiative among 38 countries, the Ramstein format engaging 50+ partners, Peace forum engaging 80+ partners. 5.Ukraine: a tumultuous 2024
Ukraine deepened its "war diplomacy" in 2023. It continues to forge coalitions within international organizations to adopt resolutions pointing to Russia's responsibility as the aggressor. Similarly, Ukraine continues to advocate the adoption of new sanctions packages and the delivery of military equipment. At the same time, financial assistance is just as crucial, given that the country needs between 3 and 5 billion euros a month to keep its economy afloat. Nevertheless, the year 2024 looks uncertain, and Ukraine will have to contend with an American electoral deadline capable of jeopardizing structural US support.