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Russia-Ukraine War: Takeaways for India

  • Geopolitics
  • 1 Months ago
  • 8 min read
India,  Russia,  Ukraine

Photo Credit: ET Online

Pankaj Saran
Pankaj Saran - Convenor, NatStrat
Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma
Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma - Senior Research Fellow, NatStrat

The lessons for India relate to the entire gamut of foreign and domestic policy and to the new instruments of power as well as new threats to national security. This requires an organic approach which involves all arms of government and strategic thinking in the broadest sense. Silos and compartmentalised responses will no longer be enough.

Introduction

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has entered its third year, with no near-term end in sight. Nations around the world are drawing different lessons from this crisis based on their economic needs, foreign policy and national security priorities. The impact of this conflict is being felt around the world. India is no exception. The lessons for India can be categorised under different heads.

Bolstering National Security

To wage and then win a war, a nation should be self-dependent to fulfil the military needs of its armed forces. India’s overwhelming dependence on any country for military hardware has to be reduced. This requires a major push to fast-track domestic manufacturing capacity through joint ventures, transfer of technology and putting in place policies that promote and help national champions, start-ups and MSMEs, especially in the private sector. Many steps have already been taken in this direction, including the announcement of a list of items that are barred from imports. 

Domestic production has to keep pace with cutting edge technologies. A great game over technology is underway between major world powers.1 India has to learn the right lessons. Maintaining ‘Balance of Technology’ is as important for India as the ‘Balance of Power’. India should source the best available technologies to fight the wars of the future. The doors to advanced Western technologies have been opened for India, but New Delhi should be careful not to create new dependencies by following the earlier import-led model for defence modernisation. The short-term pain involved in building a credible and efficient domestic defence industry will have to be endured for long-term gain. 

The modernisation of hardware has to go hand in hand with review of military doctrines and streamlining of procurement procedures. Private players should be seen as ‘partners’ and not simply as ‘vendors’ in defence modernisation and planning. Long pending structural reforms, some of which have been initiated, such as theaterisation of commands, need to be pushed.  

Hybrid threats to national security such as proxy and cognitive warfare, militarization of space, cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, information warfare and ‘weaponization of everything’ need to be mainstreamed in national security strategy. In the Ukraine conflict, information warfare has been used by all sides for perception management. It allowed Ukraine advantages in three areas – boosting the morale of its own citizens, facilitating military support from other countries and receiving support from those within Russia who sympathise with Ukrainians.2

Winning the war is important, but so is winning the narrative. Strategies of how to win a war without fighting need to be debated and fine-tuned.

Before this conflict began, it was assumed that future wars would be short and swift. However, this crisis has stretched over many months demonstrating the fact that wars could be longer even in contemporary times. National will has to be developed to prevail in battles of attrition. Infrastructure and logistics are critical for success. 

Robust Foreign Policy

In the area of foreign policy, constant vigil and prevention are critical. Management of peripheries and neighbours is a critical task for any nation. Smaller nations seek to insure themselves against perceived threats from their large neighbours, not least by inviting extra-regional powers to underwrite their security. Large countries with multiple neighbours also have security interests and they equally expect these to be protected by their smaller neighbours.

Small countries open themselves to risk if they choose to serve as proxies and pawns in larger geopolitical battles. India has to be alive to the use of smaller states as springboards and proxies to contain and hurt India by inimical hegemonic third parties. The best example is Pakistan.

India should maintain relations with its traditional partners and keep all options open till such time as it acquires adequate national power. The war has weakened Russia, but not defeated Russia. The problem from India's point of view is that it has taken global attention away from China and the Indo-Pacific, making Europe once again the epicentre of global politics. The focus on China must be retained.  India should maintain its relations with Russia for its inherent bilateral logic but also to prevent Russia’s slide into China’s embrace. India is the only country in the Quad which has not condemned Russia. India is not comfortable with constant pressure to distance itself from Moscow. It should intensify its dialogue with the US and Europe to illustrate to them the implications of pushing Russia into China’s arms.

Meanwhile, India has no choice but to keep a close eye on the Russia-China relationship, as well as the evolution of US-China engagement. There are different voices and conflicting strategies within the US on how to deal with China. China is playing all sides to manoeuvre its way into pole position on the global stage. 

Major Powers in this case have acted with scant regard for international law. The pursuit of national interest has overridden concern for global stability. India should have clarity about its national interests. It should be prepared to safeguard them, alone if necessary, and with friendly partners, where possible and necessary. The UN and its bodies and international organisations responsible for maintenance of international peace and security have proved to be ineffective. They are gridlocked, characterised by double standards and unrepresentative of the contemporary world. This is a lesson for India. It cannot afford to trust the international system to protect its interests. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at Samarkand on the sidelines of the 22nd meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), 2022.

Indian diplomacy has to be ready to deal with strategic surprises. This entails making tough choices, leveraging contradictions and converting adversities into opportunities. At the same time, India should be a solution provider and bring its civilisational strengths to bear on global problems, as it did in voicing the views of the Global South. A new balance between realism, pragmatism, interests and values will have to be found.

India,  Russia,  Ukraine

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at Samarkand on the sidelines of the 22nd meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), 2022.

Indian diplomacy has to be ready to deal with strategic surprises. This entails making tough choices, leveraging contradictions and converting adversities into opportunities. At the same time, India should be a solution provider and bring its civilisational strengths to bear on global problems, as it did in voicing the views of the Global South. A new balance between realism, pragmatism, interests and values will have to be found. 

India has its weaknesses and has to guard against strategic overreach. Yet, it has its own formidable bargaining strengths, manifested today by its being courted by all major powers. This means a pursuit of a foreign policy that maximises individual relationships, and use of smaller issue based coalitions to supplement bilateral efforts.

Self-reliance and Trusted Supply Chains

The primary aim for India should be to keep its foot on the growth accelerator. Growth allows the generation of surplus that is needed to solve the country’s social and economic problems. Economic muscle enables freedom of action and generates national confidence. If we are entering the era of ‘weaponization of everything’, we have to protect and secure ourselves from disruptions and threats in the areas of finance, trade, investment and data. 

Supply chains need to be reviewed for their resilience and trustworthiness. There are unnatural dependencies of some key sectors on Chinese supply lines. A strong manufacturing base is a strategic imperative. Decisions in the area of increasing the national R and D budget, skill development, 5G technology, Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, semiconductors and the AI Mission and pause in joining Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are all steps in that direction. 

Hydrocarbons have become a tool of geopolitics and comprehensive national power for the states which possess them in abundance. The others, such as India, have become victims of energy geopolitics. India imports almost 80 per cent of its oil and 45 per cent of its natural gas needed for consumption.3 It is the third largest energy consumer in the world. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has impacted its energy security.

The war is an opportunity for India to play the market for best prices and simultaneously accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels. India has the potential of becoming the cheapest producer of green hydrogen. It has already recorded one of the fastest growths in the generation of solar power.

Just as the Covid pandemic laid bare the criticality of self-reliance, as distinct from autarky and a closed economy, the Ukraine War has brought out the need for a sub-continental sized economy like India to be able to sustain itself and meet the needs of its people in times of global disruptions.

Conclusion

Great powers can hold the world to ransom by their behaviour. They demand allegiance and find comfort in seeing the world through the prism of alliances. They want to shape the world order and selectively apply principles and international law that suit their interests. There is little accountability for their actions.Unilateralism is trumping cooperation. The shadow boxing in Ukraine and the expansion of NATO has been going on for more than twenty years till tensions reached breaking point in 2022. East-West relations have ruptured. The peace dividends of the collapse of Communism and disintegration of the Soviet Union have been exhausted

Meanwhile, in the midst of these moves, a new global power has arisen in India’s backyard. This has changed India’s strategic landscape and brought major power rivalry to India’s doorstep. Russia is stretched, Europe is bogged down in Ukraine, the US is bogged down in both Ukraine and West Asia and China is trying to steer clear of entanglements, maximise opportunities and preserve its energies to deal with domestic economic problems and competition with the US.

There is securitisation of foreign, economic and trade policy. India, like much of the world, is being forced to protect itself from future shocks, hedge its bets, and pursue its development agenda against strong headwinds. It will have to deal with China in a more complicated environment, not least due to the forced reliance of Russia on China.

The lessons for India relate to the entire gamut of foreign and domestic policy and to the new instruments of power as well as new threats to national security. This requires an organic approach which involves all arms of government and strategic thinking in the broadest sense. Silos and compartmentalised responses will no longer be enough.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)

Endnotes:

  1. Suri, A. (2022). The great tech game: Shaping Geopolitics and the Destiny of Nations. Harper Collins.
  2. Feiner, L. (2022). Ukraine is winning the information war against Russia. CNBC.
  3.  Krishnan, M. (2022). Will war in Ukraine delay India’s green energy transition? dw.com.

     

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