Western countries, especially the United States, are putting pressure on India to come out in open and direct criticism of Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine. A series of high-level visits have taken place of ministers and senior officials of these countries to Delhi for this purpose.
Only in the past few days British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, Security and Foreign Policy Advisor to the German Chancellor Jens Plotner, and the US Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh were in the Indian capital. In addition, other important Western leaders and officials were in telephonic contact with their Indian counterparts.
While Truss and Plotner were a little circumspect in their public remarks on the Indian position on Ukraine, Singh was blunt to the point of crudeness. Hence, Singh’s comments to the media have deservedly attracted media attention.
US Deputy National Security Advisor's Words are Sanctimonious & Hypocritical
The Western narrative about the Russian invasion of Ukraine begins with need for democracies to stand together against it. The conflict is being projected in a democratic-autocratic binary. The thrust of the argument is that Putin-the autocrat has violated the sovereignty of Ukraine because of its independent choices. These references are supplemented by those of “core principles” undergirding the international system.
As Singh told a group of select journalists in Delhi “…there are core principles at stake…Core principles that underpin peace and security all over the world, the principle that you can’t redraw borders by force, the principle that you can’t subjugate the will of a free people that countries have the right to set their own course and choose their own destiny”.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion is wrong and unjustified whatever may have been the provocation that drove Putin to launch it. But words of this nature are insufferably hypocritical and sanctimonious, especially from former colonial powers and those who actively intervened in the internal affairs of countries to protect their interests in the decades since the Second World War.
Some of these countries such as the US and Britain have also invaded other countries on untenable grounds. But it would be too much to expect that these countries who have condemned Russia and imposed draconian sanctions against it would have the candour to admit that they are taking positions and actions only to protect their interests.
Let's Analyse Daleep Singh's Russia Sanctions
Daleep Singh, who has played a role in designing the sanctions against Russia, explained that they could be considered in five different “channels”. The first imposed “immediate and acute” costs on the Russian banking system. The second was to deny Russia technologies that are necessary for “modernising” the military and “diversifying” its economy. The third channel attempted to “eject” Russia from the “international world order”; the fourth aimed at “holding to account” Russian “Kleptocracy” and the last had the objective to “downgrade Russia as an energy supplier”.
An analysis of these objectives shows the contradictions and hypocrisy which are inherent in the West’s dealings with Russia. How can Russia be ejected from the international world order if it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)? Indeed, it may paralyse the UNSC that would have implications for many global political and strategic issues.
The action which the US has taken to withdraw Russia’s ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status may damage its trade but through this action Russia can hardly be isolated. Further, some major NATO states including Britain had no problems with Russia’s shady business people put in large doses of money in their countries but are now becoming all holy!
Daleep Singh's Public Comments on India Totally Out of Line
What is especially important to India is US action against Russian energy exports. It is good that India is buying discounted oil from Russia. The US should not complain because Europe continues to buy Russian gas and oil. The argument that because these countries propose to reduce their imports of these products India should not increase its purchases is thin and should be ignored.
Some of Singh’s comments were completely out of line. Saying that Russia was the junior partner in the China-Russia relationship Singh said “I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breached a line of control that Russia would come running to India’s defence”. Singh should know that India has now developed the capacities to handle its own defences and does not expect any country to “come running” to help it.
Singh also said that there would be consequences if India sought to circumvent the sanctions. The Rupee-Rouble payment arrangements will no doubt be construed as circumvention. When asked about the nature of these “consequences” he said that these were matters of his private (meaning official) conversations.
The question is if indeed he spelt these consequences out in his official meetings. It is believed that his public messaging was at odds with the substance and tenor of his official articulation.
India Should Ignore Daleep Singh's Public Comment
A White House press release comes close to what Singh conveyed to his Indian interlocutors who were Principal Secretary to PM, Minister of Commerce, Deputy National Security Adviser, Foreign Secretary and Secretary, Economic Affairs. The press release mentioned that Daleep Singh discussed ways to deepen India-US economic cooperation and ‘advance our shared interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific’. It also stated that he discussed the ‘destabilizing’ impact of the Ukraine war on global food security and international energy prices.
The press release does not endorse Singh’s claims of acquainting Indian officials with the consequences of their dealing with Russia. Indeed, if anything it seeks to distance the US administration from Singh’s media remarks on consequences.
The question then is if Singh is an amateur who exceeded his brief or if the US indeed use him to convey a message to India? An indication will come if the US begins to sanction India for purchase of advanced Russian military systems under their current legislation which is different from the sanctions. In any event India should ignore Singh’s comments and continue to act in keeping with its interests.
(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)