Sunanda K. Datta-Ray | NATO, Ukraine, Russia: why India should go its own way

India has no choice but to join the West in ganging up on both China and Russia, and let that alone shape Indian foreign policy.

When Vladimir Putin became President of Russia in 2000, he said he “cannot imagine my own country isolated from Europe and what we often call the civilized world”. Had the West responded then, Ukraine might have been spared the horrors of a brutal invasion and India deprived of the pleasure of being courted by the European Union as well as the United States.

However, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, held in Madrid following the G-7 meeting in the Bavarian Alps in Germany, pointed out that despite this courtship, India can never be a full member of the Western alliance. NATO’s decision in Madrid to identify Russia as enemy number one means that, as under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi’s India is once again destined to dig a solitary furrow.

Although trade negotiations with the European Union have resumed after an eight-year hiatus, the G-7’s resounding commitment to “open public debate, independent and pluralistic media…”, “freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and… an independent media landscape…” in the “2022 Declaration on Resilient Democracies” published by the members and their five special guests (including India) seem irreconcilable with a string of recent controversies that culminated in the impeachment of Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist Sana Irshad Mattoo. travel in France.

Meanwhile, New Delhi’s official spokesperson has accused the US State Department of “practicing ballot-banking politics in international relations” by criticizing the country’s alleged lack of religious freedom.

These contradictions arise because of the West’s obsession with confronting Russia, containing China, and maintaining global leadership without firing a shot or running out of oil. Driven by these goals, the EU and US are making as little effort as the late John Foster Dulles who thought non-alignment was “immoral” to understand the powerful strategic, military, economic and diplomatic elements of the relationship. India-Russia. The assumption is that because of humiliating border setbacks, India has no choice but to join the West in ganging up on both China and Russia, and that that alone shapes Indian foreign policy.

This simplistic view also overlooks that on some level and despite the lure of the green card, Indians are struggling to exorcise the lingering ghost of the big bad Western imperialist. Russia, with its skill at courting Third World nations, its technological expertise and its ability to play Santa Claus, benefits from this ingrained anti-Western heritage.

As Chester Bowles, two-time US Ambassador to India, reported decades before any touch of saffron swayed national perceptions, Indians were hugely impressed by an Eastern Bloc nation that rivaled with the West.

Even though memories of the US denial of a diplomatic visa to Mr Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat, and comments by various US officials on what the State Department called “sectarian violence on a truly massive scale “, play no role in current thinking, oil guaranteed at a premium price during a global shortage and assurances of a continuous supply of weapons and spare parts add to the allure of a connection based on certain fundamental similarities.

When Mr Putin annexed Crimea in March 2014, articles in Rossiyskaya Gazeta and The Diplomat drew attention to the similarity with India’s absorption of the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim. I wonder how Owen Dixon, the Australian jurist and UN mediator in Jammu and Kashmir who called Maharaja Hari Singh’s disputed kingdom a miniature Austro-Hungarian empire, would have described India. Both India and Russia are pluralistic states that challenge Westphalian concepts of the nation-state with its exclusive sovereignty over its territory. Both can claim that for reasons of history and culture, their influence and even their identity extend beyond their borders. To continue the parallel, Russia has the largest Muslim population in Europe: US sources claimed in 2017 that 14 million Russian Muslims constitute around 10% of the total population. Islamist insurgencies are not limited to the Chechen region. Moreover, not all countries that were part of the former Soviet Union today are self-governing units that have made a smooth transition from dependency to independence. Most housed – and some still do – Russian military units considered crucial to the security of the Russian Federation.

In this context, students of history might see NATO’s strategic concept document highlighted in Madrid stating that “the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine broke the peace and seriously altered our environment. security” as a return to Cold War rhetoric. “Russia’s brutal and unlawful invasion, repeated violations of international humanitarian law and heinous attacks and atrocities” may well “have caused untold suffering and destruction”, but the term used by Moscow for the invasion – “special military operation” – invites comparison with India’s 1948 Operation Polo or Operation Vijay in 1961. Ranjit Gupta, Commissioner of Police in Kolkata in the 1970s, who is credited with suppressing the Naxalite movement, argued that as an imperial creation, modern India could only be maintained by imperial means.

It was said in the early 1990s that Mikhail Gorbachev was a better democrat than Abraham Lincoln as he let 14 Soviet republics go their own way while Lincoln fought a bitter and bloody civil war to prevent the 11 Confederate states from seceding of the Union. Times change, borders change, yesterday’s enemies like France and Germany are today’s EU partners. The current joke doing the rounds is about Mr. Putin returning to earth from a special paradise for ex-communists and ordering a vodka at a bar with a talkative bartender. Is Crimea Russian, he asked, and was assured yes. Donbass? Also Russian. And the operation in Ukraine? “The Russians have invaded,” the bartender said. “Thousands of people have been killed. Burials continued day and night. Mr. Putin wanted to know if the war was going on. “No,” replied the bartender. “It’s over. There is complete peace now!

Delighted that his conquest is complete, Mr. Putin asks for his bill. “Five euros,” replied the bartender.

Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, remembers newly elected Mr Putin asking: “When are you going to invite us to join NATO?” The Secretary General replied that countries were not invited, they asked to join. “Well, we don’t line up with a lot of countries that don’t matter,” retorted the Russian president.

As already noted, a concession to his sensitivity could have saved Ukraine. It would also have avoided the dilemma that Prime Minister Narendra Modi finds himself in today.

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