On April 14, an expert discussion was held between the Valdai Club and the Indian analytical centre Observer Research Foundation (ORF), titled “Conflict in Europe: Should Asia Be Able to Stay Away?” The discussion moderator Timofey Bordachev, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that the military-political crisis in Europe raises the question of how Russia will continue to interact with Asian countries, particularly India.
Alexei Kupriyanov, Head of the Group on South Asia and the Indian Ocean of the Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), pointed out that the current crisis has put Russia in a difficult situation, cutting it off from Europe, a key partner in many respects. This has necessitated developing the long-established policy of pivot to the East. At the same time, Russia has practically no trade relations with India, one of the two Asian giants. Since China is also likely to come under strong economic pressure from the US in the future, India remains one of the few potential partners that maintains good relations with both Russia and the West and can serve as a hub for technology transfer.
Antara Ghosal Singh, a Fellow at the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, conducted a comparative analysis of the positions of India and China on the Ukraine crisis. According to her, despite the external similarity, there is a clear difference between the two positions. She noted that although public opinion in China on this issue is divided and far from unambiguous support for Russia, Chinese strategic circles see the confrontation between Russia and the West as a rescue from American pressure on China and a source of new opportunities. Meanwhile, India, which considers both the US and Russia to be friendly countries, is extremely interested in a speedy reconciliation between Russia and the West and sees no positive aspects in what is happening.
Vasily Kashin, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, continued the Chinese theme. He pointed to the strangeness of the approach of the United States, which exerts diplomatic pressure on China, allegedly in order to change its position on the Ukrainian crisis against the backdrop of a general deterioration in relations in all areas. It seems that this diplomatic activity is not intended to influence China, but to provoke its international isolation and, in particular, weaken its ties with the European Union, the expert said. Meanwhile, China continues to strengthen relations with Russia. Russia will probably become China’s main trading partner in the near future. Politically, the Chinese authorities are trying to prevent the appearance in the media of negative coverage regarding the Russian operation in Ukraine, and in official statements they blame the crisis on the destructive actions of the United States, Kashin said.
Kabir Taneja, a Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, stressed that India has always strived for a multipolar world and has seen itself as an independent power, not part of any bloc or group — and will never play on any side. Asian countries as a whole are now concerned that they are once again caught between rival world powers, he said. Many of them try to manoeuvre, thinking about their own interests first. The Indian expert acknowledged that for the Asian powers, the Ukrainian crisis looks primarily like a European problem, far removed from them in many respects, but the West actively defends its position and actively uses its incentives.
Nivedita Kapoor, a Research Fellow at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, pointed out that India does not seek to take sides and has called for an end to the conflict. The abstention of India and a number of non-Western states from voting in the UN and their refusal to join the sanctions show that Russia is not completely isolated. At the same time, there is no single approach to the situation in Southeast Asia, and the choice of each particular country is not connected with the dichotomy of “autocracy — democracy”, nor with the desire to resist Western domination, but solely with the desire to protect their interests. Speaking about the Indian position, Kapoor noted that, as the conflict continues, diplomatic options for New Delhi are becoming limited and anxiety is growing. She also stressed that Ukraine is not a priority in Indian politics, that India is more concerned about China, and that the conflict between Russia and the West is secondary for the country.
Ivan Safranchuk, Director and Leading Research Fellow of the Centre for Eurasian Studies at MGIMO at the Russian Foreign Ministry, pointed to changes in Chinese strategic thinking after 2014. According to him, if China used to focus primarily on Russia’s overly sharp reaction, now it is concentrated on the actions of the West. He also noted that the idea of a new bipolarity, which was supposed to give India the opportunity to balance between forces, was refuted by reality. In the new reality, it will be unprofitable to balance between the players, but this does not negate the possibility of pursuing an independent policy. “China went to an independent game, whether India can go for it is an open question,” Safranchuk added.
The closing remarks were made by Nandan Unnikrishnan, ORF Distinguished Fellow, who noted that the conflict affects everyone, but Asian countries look at it through the prism of their national interests and will not try to take sides, although they are afraid that the rivalry of big states will overwhelm their region. India itself, according to him, is pursuing an independent foreign policy, not trying to balance between anyone and focusing primarily on the interests of its own development.