Ukraine, Indo Pacific and India: What's the Connection?
The crisis in Ukraine has created spectre of return of a war or warlike situation in Europe after many decades. As Russia and the West attempt to maintain and expand their respective spheres of influence in the median areas which should essentially be a neutral zone of peace and stability, the scenario obtained of massing of troops on one side and threat versus threat response emanating was not unexpected given legacy of inter state and inter bloc rivalries in Europe. The aim of this discourse is not to take any sides but attempt to envisage possible impact of the crisis in Ukraine in the Indo Pacific and India.
Geographically the European continent is far separated from the Indo Pacific, but in an increasingly globalised world interlinkages are political, economic, trade, defence and security, thus multi-faceted. This is evident from multiple forays by the European Union and member states as well as the United Kingdom outlining their strategies and following up with deployment of military assets to the Indo Pacific within the last one year or so. This comes about after the United States undertook rebalancing to the Indo Pacific almost a decade ago and has now expanded on an Indo Pacific strategy that integrates many partnerships in the region politically such as the QUAD and militarily through AUKUS both recently activated forums. Russia too has strong linkages in the region and not just the military, nuclear, space and energy partnership with India but also with countries ranging from Pakistan to Bangladesh in what it defines as the Asia Pacific rather than the Indo Pacific.
A point to note is that a war or a conflict in Europe has always drawn the militaries the Sub Continent with the British Indian Army forming the bulwark of the armed force in the First and the Second World War. Not that India today will be embroiled in a war or conflict in Europe far from it but the historical reminder needs mention.
The Indo Pacific shift of the United States and western militaries was seen as a response to a rising threat from China with the underlying theme being the shift of geo-economics from the West to the East, whatever be the actualities of the situation.
Now with a confrontation with Russia looming large and even if the situation is defused through dialogue, what would be the strategic inclination of the United States and European powers to continue their focus on the Indo Pacific. A crisis nearer home and to some of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe after Ukraine it may be them that the confrontation may progress will naturally gain salience. While it may be too early to project that the US and Europe will abandon their Indo Pacific strategies the possibility of weakening of the projected power looms large.
In this context India may gain a centrality along with ASEAN in providing the political as well as military cushion for the West in the Indo Pacific. But back to Ukraine crisis and India, the dilemma of crisis in Ukraine is evident with the statement at the UNSC Meeting on threats to international peace and security (Ukraine) on 31 January 2022 by Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations. India has pitched for de-escalation, “taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries and aimed towards securing long term peace and stability in the region and beyond”. A number of dialogues that have been ongoing for resolution apart from the long standing Minsk agreement has been highlighted by the Indian Permanent Representative while some say that India has sided with Russia as it did not support the motion moved by the United States to hold a discussion on the issue and abstained.
For India the choice in the UNSC was between a host of key strategic partners as Russia on one hand and the United States, European members as France and UK on the other. Selection between such close political associates was not possible, but there is a belief in India that there are genuine security concerns of Russia that must be taken into account and not push Moscow – this being the underlying message interpreted from Ambassador Tirumurti’s statement on January 31st. Interestingly the use of the phrase “region and beyond,” seems to indicate India’s concerns of spill over of the Ukraine crisis to other parts of the World including the Indo Pacific.