While India’s choices on Ukraine may be geographically symbolic of the distance between strategic issues of the Eurasian heartland and India’s core national interests, its growing role in Central Asia and increasing connection with Europe are adding compulsions against its hitherto noncommittal foreign policy orientation to the region.
With India’s growing role and aspirations, the tension in its decision-making could be felt more sharply in the future, especially when the choice is between ‘comprehensive global strategic partnership’ with the US on one hand, and its ‘special and privileged partnership’ with Russia on the other. China’s direct conflict with India and its ever-increasing bellicosity marks it as a relative outlier in India’s great power calculations, where despite trade dependence on China, India’s choices vis-à-vis Beijing are clearer in comparison to the other two great powers. Chinese aggression at the border and other steps against Indian interests, both bilaterally and at the multilateral level, have imparted perspicuity in its China policies.
The pulls and pushes in India’s diplomatic balancing are likely to continue in its strategic choices in the future, depending on how the issue weighs on India’s national interests. Its navigation between the great powers could sway from one way more than the other on the strategic spectrum connecting the US and Russia. China is likely to remain an outlier in India’s calculations with more decisiveness in the latter’s decisions, given the confrontation at the LAC along with its expansionist agendas in South Asia and the larger Indo-Pacific. As the world’s largest democracy India seeks to avoid an Asian future that is led by China.
Insofar as India-Russia relations are concerned, both New Delhi and Moscow while sharing strong bilateral ties also have strong externalities to hedge against each other. These external factors have become stronger in the past decade, as India’s partnerships and interests have changed and Russia continues to attempt a repositioning amidst shifting power balances between the east and the west. If India’s strong relationship with the US keeps Russia on the edge, Russia has pared down its apprehensions by forging a strong relationship with China and by its intermittent signals through its relationship with Pakistan.
Despite a recent controversy and somewhat mixed signals in the past, Russia remains steadfast in its support to India on the Kashmir issue. India also values Russian support at the multilateral level, especially in multilateral groups of which China is also a part, such as BRICS and the SCO. In larger multilateral groups like the United Nations, Russia’s permanent membership has proved even more useful to India.
Although the description of the Quad as an Asian NATO has been rightly rubbished as a far-fetched idea, Quad members’ moment to assure each other of support along with the group’s expanding agendas could provide a rationale for consolidating the Asia-Pacific front against China while the US is engaged with possible Russian invasion into Ukraine on the Eurasian front.