Russia’s annexation of Crimea has put India in somewhat of a tough spot. While India purports to practice independence in its foreign policy, it remains reliant on Moscow for around 75 percent of its arms imports. But defense purchases aren’t the only consideration in its foreign policy position on the Crimean issue. Similar to China, India has its own considerations regarding Crimea’s referendum to join the Russian Federation — supporting a referendum as the basis for breaking up a country leads India down a dangerous path regarding its own claims to Kashmir (a majority Muslim state that, if offered a referendum, may opt for independence or joining Pakistan).
On Wednesday, reports emerged that sources within the Indian government say that India will refrain from backing sanctions against Russia. The United States and the European Union will pursue a series of limited sanctions against certain Russian political elites. These so called “smart sanctions” have come under scrutiny in the West for not being severe enough given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disregard for international law.
How India reacts to Russia’s annexation of Crimea will ultimately have important ramifications for how it is perceived on the world stage and for its continued relationship with the Russian Federation. At a time when India’s relations with the United States have been at an all-time low following the spectacle of the Devyani Khobragade affair, India could alienate itself further from the United States by not doing enough to take a strong stand on the Crimean issue.
As a matter of policy, India does not support unilateral sanctions against any state without the backing of the United Nations — in the Russian case, given that any resolution at the UN Security Council on the Crimean issue will be vetoed by Russia, it appears unlikely that India will back sanctions at any point. According to reports from IBN Live, the upcoming UN General Assembly session on Crimea will be important for India’s foreign policy on the issue. India will be able to back a resolution promoting Ukraine’s territorial integrity but will likely abstain from any resolution condemning Russia.
Meanwhile, India’s National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has gone on the record as acknowledging that Russia has “legitimate interests” in Crimea. “We are watching what is happening in Ukraine with concern… The broader issues of reconciling various interests involved and there are, after all, legitimate Russian and other interests involved and we hope those are discussed, negotiated and there is a satisfactory resolution to them,” Menon said earlier this month as the crisis in Crimea slowly ramped up.
If the international community comes together to isolate Russia in the short-term, as is likely, New Delhi might find that its balancing act grows increasingly more difficult.