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Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Gil Corzo/Shutterstock)

With the threat of war looming large over Ukraine, European countries are facing a daunting task of getting Russia to back down. The Ukraine crisis will be far from insular, and it will not only test the strength of European countries but will also test Asian powers such as India.

The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 created a lot of flak for New Delhi as it was the only major Asian power to defend Moscow’s invasion of a sovereign country. Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Advisor under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, stated that Russia had “legitimate interests” in Ukraine. However, the present climate is a little different.

For several weeks as the crisis in Ukraine developed, India did not utter a peep but on January 28th, New Delhi finally broke its silence, calling for “a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long terms peace and stability in the region.” India has every reason to be concerned over the recent escalations as it understands that what happens in Europe will not stay in Europe and if Russia takes military action against Ukraine, it might complicate its relations with both Russia and the United States.

What’s at stake for India?

If Russia’s incursion into Ukraine happens, which some analysts have suggested could happen at any moment, it could present an obstacle to India in terms of cultivating deeper ties between Russia and China. The possibility of Russia receiving substantial backlash from the West in the event of a military incursion is likely, meaning that Moscow will need Beijing’s diplomatic support even more.

Of course, there is a logic behind the Russia-China nexus as both have been designated as revisionist powers by the U.S. seeking to oust it from the Indo-Pacific. However, closer Sino-Russian ties poses a strategic threat to India. China showing diplomatic support for Russia provides Beijing an opportunity to increase pressure on India via Moscow. India-Russia relations are embedded in uncertain international situations. While India and Russia have been keen on restructuring ties, their main partners-the United States for India, and China for Russia-are locked in a global competition.

What would ideally work in India’s favour are stable relations between the West and Russia. For this reason, New Delhi welcomed the Biden-Putin summit last summer. India’s quest for strategic autonomy is increasingly starting to become apparent through its diplomatic meetings. President Vladimir Putin’s recent high-profile visit to New Delhi have shown that even amidst growing ties with the United States, India still considers Russia an important strategic partner. Thus, it would help if two of India’s key partners are not at loggerheads. An invasion of Ukraine by Russia would impede any rapprochement between Washington and Moscow. Thus, Russian military action against Ukraine would add complexity to India’s efforts to maintain a delicate balance between its partnerships with Europe, the U.S., and Russia.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict would also bring to the forefront contradicting views on the matter. It is most likely that the West will be eager to respond with even more sanctions on Moscow. This could have dire consequences for India as it considers Moscow a key supplier of military hardware. India’s deal with Russia on S-400 missiles was met with a lot of twists and turns as Washington indicated that India was unlikely to get a waiver on the systems. While the U.S. is considering waiving the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for India there is no doubt that it has created some sort of uneasiness between the two countries.

In terms of what repercussions the Russian invasion of Ukraine could have on the geopolitical landscape; mounting tensions in Europe may require the U.S. to be more involved in that region. This would mean that a deteriorating situation in Europe could draw the U.S. away from the Indo-Pacific. With the Afghanistan quagmire looming large in India’s neighbourhood, the possible involvement of the U.S. military in Europe would be perceived as another impediment in getting America to focus on the China challenge.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis could also create obstacles for India’s security and economic ties with European partners. While India is currently strengthening ties with the United States, Australia, and Japan as part of the Quad, it is also collaborating with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom to counter China’s belligerence in the Indo-Pacific. If a conflict ensues between Russia and the West over Ukraine it is likely to distract the attention of the U.S. and other nations from the region-giving Xi Jinping’s China an opportunity to expand its geopolitical influence.

It is also imperative to understand that a Russia-Ukraine crisis can have consequences on India’s trade relations with Ukraine. India has economic and defence ties with Ukraine and is one of the leading export markets for the country. The bilateral trade dynamics between India and Ukraine are characterised by a generally steady upward trend and in the occasion of war, economic ties with India will be visibly altered.

Taking into consideration all the reasons mentioned above, it is evident that New Delhi has significant stakes in the success of negotiations between Russia and the U.S. over Ukraine. India’s recent remark of the Ukraine crisis is a testament to its willingness to sustain relations with its close strategic partner-Moscow.

Geopolitics requires a degree of diplomatic dexterity from New Delhi. Going forward, India will seek to maximise its gains and minimise its losses while playing at multiple fronts. India will have to manoeuvre the structural asymmetries to protect and promote its interests, and how it handles the Ukraine crisis vis-à-vis Russia will be indicative of that.

Priyanjali Simon is a freelance strategic analyst and is currently a Research Intern at Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies. Her research areas include U.S. foreign policy, Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific and India-U.S. Relations.