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India’s Ukraine Dilemma Gets More Complex

A day may be too long in international security and politics in today’s hyper intense geo-political environment as for the first time in this Century, a P 5 Member, Russia has launched a full fledged military operations against a state actor, Ukraine.

As India continued to hedge in the United Nations Security Council where as a non permanent member the countries position has become awkward as the Russian Federation (Russia) came under fire on February 24 for what many members called declaration of, “war,” on Ukraine making the situation even more complex.

India's theme of diplomacy and dialogue may have lost relevance for now and all eyes are now on the UNSC resolution proposed by the United States and other permanent members of the Council which may be under debate .

What is the war objective of President Putin is not clear, but clearly the Russian so called, “special military operation,” being named as war by the West and most international stakeholders has placed India on the diplomatic backfoot while in terms of military capability raised multiple questions.

Here is a review of how the developments will impact India's defence preparedness–

Modi Putin Call

In a phone call between Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the Russian President Mr Vladimir Putin, on February 24 on a day when Mr Putin also had an extensive meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Indian official press release stated that, “President Putin briefed Prime Minister about the recent developments regarding Ukraine”.

“Prime Minister reiterated his long-standing conviction that the differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue,” the release added stating that, “ Prime Minister appealed for an immediate cessation of violence, and called for concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue”.

The Indian side of the conversation between Mr Modi and Mr Putin was apparently approved by the Cabinet Committee of Security in India the highest decision making body on security and foreign policy in a meeting on February 24.

The need for diplomacy and dialogue was also highlighted by India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishanker to Russia’s top diplomat foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

US Perspectives and Sanctions

Enter India’s other close strategic partner the United States.

President Joe Biden responding to a question on whether India was on board the actions being taken by the United States to sanction Russia responded, “We are in consultations with India today. We haven’t resolved that completely.”

This was with reference to India’s being a major defence partner of the United States.

Apparently, the consultations were between the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishanker and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which possibly both sides emphasized their own points of view without reaching any conclusions.

Meanwhile the United States has sanctioned Russia increasing the levels from those on February 22.

On February 24 in a briefing to the media, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics and Deputy NEC Director Daleep Singh unveiled the next series of sanctions on Russia which Daleep Singh called, “unprecedented set of export restrictions developed in historically close coordination with the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan”.

From the Indian perspective the sanctions are also impacting, “ Russian military end users to impair Putin’s military capabilities and will also deny exports across Russia to sensitive, cutting-edge technology, primarily targeting Russia’s defense, aerospace, and maritime sectors”.

The sanctions denote, “new measures include sweeping restrictions on Russian military end users to impair Putin’s military capabilities and will also deny exports across Russia to sensitive, cutting-edge technology, primarily targeting Russia’s defense, aerospace, and maritime sectors”.

Importantly on the financial front, Mr Daleep Singh stated, “We will impose sanctions on Russia’s two largest financial institutions — Sberbank and VTB — which together hold more than half of the Russian banking system’s assets — over $750 billion in total”.

“We’ll also freeze the assets of and prohibit any business dealings with three additional Russian banks with combined assets of over $70 billion,” he added.

All this implies challenges in critical technologies that are essential in joint projects between Russia and India which include S 400 Triumf Surface to Air Missile Systems, frigates, nuclear submarine leasing and so on apart from spares and ancillaries for multitude of systems from tanks – T 90 S to Su 30 MKI fighters.

There could be concerns of grounding India’s armed forces capability at a time that the China threat is looming large on the Line of Actual Control (LAC)with the summer season ahead holding uncertain portends and requires detailed item wise analysis.

Safety of Students and Beyond

The situation for India is thus far more complex than the immediate concern of safety of the student community some 20,000 of which are held up in Ukaine amidst the crisis.

Prime Minister sensitised the Russian President, “about India's concerns regarding the safety of the Indian citizens in Ukraine, especially students, and conveyed that India attaches the highest priority to their safe exit and return to India”.

This comes even as the Ministry of External Affairs has deployed teams to the borders of Ukraine in Europe to provide relief to those who are able to make it there given that flights to Kyiv are suspended.

And More

To add to the challenges, India’s An 32 transport upgradation programme with Ukraine may also be impacted recounts Mr Rahul Bedi, veteran defence correspondent of Jane’s and the Wire. Bedi highlights intricate linkages between the Russian and Ukraine defence industry which will have a, “domino effect,” on India’s defence preparedness apart from future arms deals.

What should be done?

Clearly the need of the hour is for the Indian Ministry of Defence, External Affairs and the Armed Forces possibly led by Department of Military Affairs to put their heads together and list capabilities that will be impacted in the immediate, short and long term and undertake remedial measures to offset the Ukraine sanctions on Russia, but more about that later.

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