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Ukraine's Diplomatic Endeavors: Strengthening Ties With India And Exploring New Alliances – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Ukraine's Diplomatic Endeavors: Strengthening Ties with India and Exploring New Alliances

The Russia-Ukraine war shows no signs of ending any time soon. The death and destruction is all-pervasive, but both sides continue to insist that they will fight on. For Ukraine, it’s a matter of survival, and for Russia, it’s a matter of national pride. Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure now extend well behind the frontlines even as its missile strikes and shelling have escalated in an attempt to turn the war decisively in Moscow’s favour.

Last week, Russia fired around 100 missiles and drones on Ukraine, leaving several regions experiencing partial blackouts, a set of tactics that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called “missile terror”. Ukraine, meanwhile, is scouring for support from across the world as it tries to shore up defence production at home and build an integrated electronic warfare control system.

India’s Significance

Amidst this deepening turmoil on the battlefield, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba paid a visit to India last week during which the two sides agreed to restore the level of cooperation that existed prior to the Russia-Ukraine war. Kuleba talked of India as a global power and how Prime Minister Narendra Modi “can take global security to the next level because of the role India plays in the global security architecture”.

He underscored that “India is well-positioned, not only in terms of bilateral relations between India and Ukraine but also in terms of the high regard India enjoys in the Global South. So, if India takes a step, many countries will follow. This is how leadership is built.”

Ukraine’s Changed Outlook

Ukrainian leadership has been highly critical of India’s position on the Ukraine conflict ever since the war began. Kuleba’s visit was clearly an attempt at reaching out to New Delhi at a time when Western support for the Ukrainian war effort is not as strong as Kyiv would like. Washington remains divided on the scale and scope of support for Ukraine in a hyper-polarising election year. And leaders in Europe are conflicted about the extent of the support they would get from their public at a time when the economic situation is not getting any better for most.

Ukraine’s recently appointed commander-in-chief, Gen Oleksandr Syrskiy, has acknowledged that Russian forces outnumbered Ukrainian troops by approximately six to one on the frontline, underlining that Ukraine had ceded territory that could have been preserved if provided with adequate ammunition and air defense systems by its allies.

For Ukraine, therefore, it is now key that a country like India, which has a track record of speaking its own mind on global affairs, is part of the global effort in ensuring that some sort of peace process can be ushered in. Ukraine aspires to convene a summit of global leaders, excluding Russian participation, in order to promote its peace plan, which includes a “formula” advocating, among other measures, the withdrawal of Russian forces from its sovereign territory. India’s presence at the high-level peace conference being organised by Switzerland in the next few months can be an important marker in shaping global public opinion.

India’s Position Unlikely To Change Anytime Soon

While External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reiterated India’s “commitment to strengthen the overall relationship”, it is unlikely that New Delhi’s carefully calibrated stance on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will change anytime soon. India has been consistent in emphasising the importance of dialogue and peaceful resolution to the crisis, urging all parties to exercise restraint and seek diplomatic solutions through negotiations.

While expressing concern over the situation and calling for respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, India has refrained from outright condemnation of Russia’s actions. India has advocated for a peaceful and inclusive resolution to the conflict, which takes into account the interests of all stakeholders involved. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly made it clear to the Russian President that the current situation is not conducive to conflict and underscored the imperative for peace.

This has happened despite India and Russia sharing a multifaceted relationship spanning decades, characterised by strategic cooperation, economic ties, and cultural exchanges. The foundation of this relationship was laid during the Cold War era, marked by close diplomatic relations and military cooperation. The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship of 1971 cemented this bond, which has since evolved into a strategic partnership. Military cooperation remains a cornerstone of Indo-Russian relations, with India being one of the largest importers of Russian defence equipment. At a time when India faces a live challenge along its long border with China, a steady relationship with Russia is a strategic imperative.

Nobody Wants An Unstable Eurasia

Economic collaboration has been significant, although it has faced challenges in recent years due to global economic shifts. Energy cooperation, particularly in the field of nuclear energy, has been a prominent feature of the relationship. Efforts to diversify trade and investment ties have been ongoing, aiming to harness the potential in sectors like pharmaceuticals, information technology, and space exploration.

India and Russia both recognise the importance of maintaining a strong bond, particularly at a time of global geopolitical and geoeconomic flux. An unstable Eurasia is not in Indian interest and New Delhi would like to see a resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war soon. But ultimately, it is for the main protagonists in this conflict – Russia, Ukraine and the West – to decide what kind of Eurasian security architecture they can live with. A sustainable peace in Eurasia depends on some common understanding on this, and so long as such an understanding eludes the three, it is unlikely that peace will return to Europe.

Harsh V Pant is a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London and vice-president for studies at Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

The article was first published as ‘Ukraine’s India Outreach, And The Search For New Friends‘ in NDTV on April 2, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

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Acknowledgement: This article was posted by Mansi Garg , a researcher at IMPRI.

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