India’s vote in favour of allowing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak to the UN Security Council through a video link despite Russia’s opposition does not indicate a shift in its position on the conflict between the two countries, experts said.
According to a former Indian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, India has remained neutral on the Ukraine issue and its decision on August 24 was only an “elaboration of its neutrality.”
It conveyed to the world that despite its close relations with Russia, India was neutral on Ukraine and not supporting either side in the conflict.
India joined 12 other UNSC members to invite Zelensky to speak to the Security Council through a video link. Until this week, India had abstained from most anti-Russian resolutions on Ukraine introduced at the UN.
Russia opposed the move and China abstained. The meeting coincided with Ukraine’s Independence Day and the sixth month of the conflict.
“It is on the territory of Ukraine that the world’s future will be decided,” Zelensky said while briefing the Council, adding that “our independence is your security.”
Matter of procedure
At the SC meeting, India indicated that it continues to maintain its neutral position. However, the vote against Moscow was widely noted in diplomatic circles and sparked speculation over what New Delhi’s position meant for the war that has created a worldwide crisis.
However, the August 24 vote at the UNSC was more on a matter of procedure than a resolution on a substantial, political issue.
Russia had agreed twice before to allow Zelensky to brief the Security Council through a video link. This time it argued that like other leaders, the Ukrainian President should also be present in the UNSC.
Russia’s concern was that using the video link would become the norm and not the exception that was adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the threat of the virus had weakened, the Ukrainian President should also be present.
World leaders are often invited to brief the 15 UNSC members important developments in a country. These briefings are limited to the members.
Russia’s unhappiness might have stemmed from Zelensky’s use of video clips of the war highlighting the offensive on the Ukrainian people in his previous video-link addresses to the UNSC.
Like most other countries in the Council, India felt the Russian opposition was not too convincing, especially when it had agreed to allow the Ukrainian President to address through a video link in the past.
Despite its abstention on most UNSC resolutions on Ukraine, India’s statements at the world body have been consistent. Though it did not take part in castigating Russia, New Delhi spoke about the immediate cessation of violence and return to the negotiating table to find a peaceful resolution.
India also stressed the need to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations—words that some diplomats interpreted as oblique criticism of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
Although the US and its partners were unhappy about India’s refusal to join democratic forces against Russian President Vladimir Putin, India maintained its neutrality.
Instead, New Delhi had been critical of the West, particularly the Europeans, who have glossed over matters such as the evolving crisis in Afghanistan after the US hastily withdrew its troops.
Russia, China factors
During the meeting of the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue, or Quad, India told the US, Japan and Australia that the focus should be on the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China’s aggressive rise.
India also explained why it could not take an anti-Russian position. Russia is not only one of its closest strategic allies but also the chief weapons supplier.
Despite Moscow’s close relations with Beijing, Russia has assured India there will be no disruption in the supply of defence spares for India in its ongoing standoff with China.
India does not want to jeopardise its traditional partnership with Moscow and force it to move closer to China, especially when Beijing’s aggressive behaviour poses a major challenge for most countries.
However, the Indian stand at the vote earlier this week also made it clear that its closeness with Russia does not mean it would sacrifice its neutrality on the Ukraine issue to please Moscow. It also distinguishes India’s position on Ukraine from that of China. Their stands on resolutions in the UNSC have been similar, not identical.
India has highlighted the need to safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty – a stand also aimed at China because of its unilateral disruption of border agreements with India and assertions of changing maritime borders with others.The reiteration of India’s neutrality might help more countries in the West to appreciate its stand on Ukraine better.