A day after India abstained from voting against Russia and for Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking New Delhi’s political support.
Zelenskyy tweeted, “Spoke with Prime Minister @narendramodi. Informed of the course of Ukraine repulsing Russian aggression. More than 100,000 invaders are on our land. They insidiously fire on residential buildings. Urged India to give us political support in the UN Security Council. Stop the aggressor together!”
The timing of the tweet was curious considering it came within less than 24 hours after India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. T. S. Tirumurti abstained saying New Delhi is “deeply disturbed by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine” and adding for good measure that “no solution can ever be arrived at the cost of human lives.”
And yet India abstained from voting favorably on a draft resolution moved by the United States and Albania deploring Russian aggression. India found itself in the company of its most potent adversary China, which too abstained. Beijing, of course, was clearly keeping in mind its warm relations with Moscow and the possibility of forging a new anti-America alliance.
India, on the other hand, has had to walk a chalk line considering its decades-long close relations first with the erstwhile Soviet Union and now Russia. It was no surprise that it abstained because diplomatically it is caught in a quandary given its long relationship with Russia and increasingly strategic and friendly relations with the United States. It bears remembering that China’s abstention came only weeks after Beijing and Moscow announced a “no-limits” partnership. Beijing’s is motivated by its growing restlessness over Taiwan which, left to it, it would like to annex. In a sense, China’s President Xi Jinping sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a test for what he might get away with should he choose to do something similar to Taiwan.
India could not have explicitly voted no for obvious reasons. Abstention seemed to be the least difficult of difficult options. This is notwithstanding that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield saying during is speech that abstaining or voting no essentially meant supporting Russia’s aggression.
It is a measure how anal international diplomats get about the language of any such resolution. The UNSC vote was delayed for two hours yesterday apparently caused by haggling over whether the word “deplore” should be used or “condemn.” Eventually, they settled for “deplore”. The difference between the two is subtle but silly because while deplore means strongly disapprove, condemn means complete disapproval express in public. No matter what it is being called people have died and been maimed as well as property destroyed, not to mention a sovereign nation invaded.
Going purely by the numbers, of the 15 UNSC members, eleven voted in favor, three—India, China and the United Arab Emirates—abstained and Russia voted no, Moscow has been isolated. The eleven permanent and non-permanent members who voted for the resolution were France, the United Kingdom, The United States, Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway.
In the near-term Moscow’s isolation or being a global pariah as illustrated by the UNSC vote means nothing since Russian President Vladimir Putin has so far had his way.
Among the reasons India cited as explanation for its vote was to point out that “The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.” The irony of the vote in clear contradiction to that philosophy was paradoxical.
Many commentators have pointed out that Ukraine has never really supported India at the U.N. over major issues and it is unrealistic of Kyiv to expect support at this time. It is not clear what Zelenskyy expects Modi to do in terms of political support to stop the aggressor when the aggressor is already at his doorstep.
While India’s national interests are understandable as the motivation behind abstaining, it is pitiful that a truly great civilization feels compelled to engage in self-serving pragmatism. Sometimes lofty sentient themes should take precedence over geopolitical self-interest. India is perhaps the only civilization right now which has the strength and depth to do that.
In a separate context, it remains a travesty that India is still not a permanent member of the UNSC despite being the world’s largest democracy and home to close to 1.4 billion people. It is instructive that all five permanent UNSC members, America, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, are major exporters of arms, which by their very definition eventually lead to wars around the world.