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Indian perspectives on the Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea

Varun Sahni, 11 June 2014

The statement by India’s national security adviser on March 6th 2014 referring to “legitimate” Russian interest in Ukraine was unsurprisingly criticised in the West, but appreciated in Russia. Most observers missed other important elements in the statement: (1) reference to Ukraine’s internal  issues; (2) recognition that both Russian and other interests  were involved; and (3) emphasis on a peaceful settlement, reconciliation and negotiation. Debate on the Ukrainian crisis has been largely absent in India due to preoccupation with national elections, widespread consensus that Russia is a dependable “friend of India”, and sneaking admiration of President Putin for his “decisiveness” in promoting Russia’s interests and open defiance of the West. While China and Pakistan have deployed historical/ethno-cultural arguments to dispute Indian sovereignty over territories that India considers its own, India has consistently rejected claims to alter the territorial status quo on grounds of kinship across sovereign borders. India’s low-key reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea can perhaps be explained by three factors: (1) Russia’s salience in India’s military modernisation programme; (2) disquiet about the way in which the West has used democracy as a foreign policy tool; and, more speculatively, (3) a quid pro quo going back to 1975, when only the Soviet Union backed India’s annexation of Sikkim after 97.5% of its inhabitants voted to merge with India.

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