Millennium Post

Saying No to Sanctions

Even as the West’s deepest fears about Vladimir Putin recreating the country of his youth, rebuilding Soviet Russia deal by deal, are at best paranoid, it is not leaving any stone unturned to put Moscow down. Dropping Russia from Group of Eight (G8), a select club into which Putinland was anyway a late entrant, imposing economic and trade sanctions on Moscow and now declaring the Crimean vote ‘illegal’ via the spineless front that is the United Nations, the West is trying to up the ante and push the Russian president into a corner. It’s a grim situation, but there’s a silver lining as far as New Delhi’s stated position on the Crimean crisis is concerned. The Indian government has, fortunately enough, put its foot down and categorically said it wouldn’t support Western sanctions against Russia.

Despite weak domestics and namby-pamby of internal political economy, India has, historically, maintained a dignified stance on international issues. Not completely forgetting the lessons of non-alignment movement pioneered by Jawaharlal Nehru in the wake of Independence and forging of an alliance of the newly independent Third World countries, New Delhi has geared the diplomatic modules of 20th century to the needs and requirements that the 21st century effectively demands. This means, readjusting his position vis-à-vis the USA, much of Europe, Israel as well as rereading its longstanding ties with the likes of Russia, or reinterpreting its rivalry with both Pakistan and China. India has, most of the times, maintained solemn neutrality, but at times, whether it is in the case of Bangladesh liberation war, Sri Lankan genocide of Tamils, or political delicacies in Maldives – it has not shied away from taking an overt stance.


Indo-Russia ‘strategic partnership’ notwithstanding, the Crimean crisis can prove to be an interesting cast study in how international diplomacy and friendship evolves over time. While Moscow has had a historic role in delineating many an internal or external issue faced by New Delhi, as well as its pivotal part in augmentation of Indian defence, space and nuclear sectors, ties had thinned in the wake of New Delhi’s fin de siècle love affair with Washington. A number of diplomatic debacles later (including the Devyani Khobragade issue as well as American disapproval of local resistance within India to unchecked admission of FDI and Washington’s not non-acceptance of our civil nuclear liability clause), as New Delhi is reassessing its mushy love for the USA, the Crimean instance has once again held out a sturdy branch of camaraderie and offered it a chance to rebuild its ties with Moscow.

While the West is hell bent on portraying the Crimean secession from Ukraine as not a referendum but an annexation on the part of Russia, India has been more nuanced and guarded in its approach. The Indian government has said it does not support unilateral sanctions against any country, and in that light, tough talk, travel embargoes and economic boycott would be, in principle, unacceptable to New Delhi. Vladimir Putin’s telephonic explanation to Manmohan Singh notwithstanding, India’s strong self-positioning has indeed given Russia a morale lift, even though the no-nonsense, bear-wrestling president has dealt with ‘international condemnation’ effectively.
 However, what is important to note is New Delhi’s overt ‘recognition’ of ‘legitimate interests’ of Russia in Ukraine, particularly Crimea. National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon has clearly said that if push comes to shove, New Delhi will back its old ally over remonstrations from the West, even as the latter is trying to arm-twist India into dancing to its tunes once again.

Even as the UN General Assembly approved a resolution describing the Moscow-backed referendum that allowed Crimea to willfully join Russia as ‘illegal’, Moscow has not flinched. Branding Crimea secession as illegal comes after the olive branch from International Monetary Fund (IMF) which agreed to loan Ukraine $14-18 billion, while the US Congress backed a legislation agreeing to offer $1 billion to Ukraine. Given that the problems within the Ukrainian capital Kiev were pretty much a Western engineering, the latest ‘magnanimity’ is really just for show, pushing Ukraine into the same vicious cycle of bad credit that almost crippled Irish, Greek and Spanish economies in recent past, sending them into deep recession. Given that Russian largesse had kept Ukraine in good stead and Moscow is right to withdraw its substantial energy subsidy to Kiev as a fallout of the crisis, the economic problem is really a self-created trouble for Ukraine.

Now, with the sanctions on Moscow over Crimea and expulsion of Russia from the G-8, the West is trying its best to step the gas and apply pressure tactics to tame Putin-led Russia. After being royally stumped, Euro-American powers have fallen back on the old trope of economic sanctions, which it had applied aginst Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Syria, or Latin American Venezuela, or Cuba, and indeed any country that cherished its sovereignty over resorting to sycophancy to keep the West happy. Sanctions, however, have a track record not only being ineffective to politically contain the other country, but can launch ripples of disruptions, particularly in this intensely globalised world.

While Vladimir Putin has helped reconsolidate Russia as a power to reckon with, he’s mature enough to understand that unilateral sanctions are useless in these connected times. Post Cold War interregnum had made countries drop their guards and iron curtains had come down, thereby integrating hitherto insular countries such as China more intimately into the globalized economy. Just as the West cannot afford to completely antagonize China, it cannot do away with Russia, which is sitting on enormous reservoirs of natural gas and is an industrial powerhouse supplying arms and technology to much of the developing world, including India.

Despite fluidity of alliances and Euro-America trying to discipline other countries to submission, New Delhi and Beijing, like Moscow, are aware of the ultimate inefficacy of unilateral actions. Trading regimes are essential multilateral now, and any attempt to corner Moscow, which is the gateway to many of the untapped markets of the Eastern European countries, would be a major disaster. Moscow, being an essential component and bulwark of South-South cooperation and in ties like BRICS, has friends in Asia and Latin America. Moreover, as far as diplomacy is concerned, Putin has trumped Obama already.
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