Event Details

  • Date and Time: March 18, 2022; 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM IST
  • Topic: The Ukraine Conundrum and India’s Strategy
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Speakers:
    • Amb T P Sreenivasan, Advisor, CPPR and former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations
    • Prof T V Paul,  Erudite Distinguished Fellow at CPPR and James McGill Professor of International Relations, Department of Political Science, McGill University
  • Moderator: Sharon Susan Koshy, Associate, Research, CPPR

About the event

The Ukraine crisis instigated by the Russian invasion is expected to have implications for India in its immediate and extended neighbourhood. Whether India should proactively work out a dual policy of sanctions and aid or choose the path of strategic autonomy must be discussed within the larger framework of geopolitics and geostrategy. CPPR hosted this discussion to turn focus to strategically pertinent issues that have to be discussed against the breakdown of democracy in Eastern Europe with particular reference to India as a major stakeholder.


Speaker: Prof T V Paul

  • We are at a very important turning point in historical terms. After about 30 years of peace, we have entered an era of uncertainty and conflict. The conflict and violent outbreaks are bad news for countries like India and to the world order in general.
  • The over militarization, the excessive focus on killing or deaths will affect the world order.
  • The developments might lead to de-globalisation and create situations similar to the cold war.
  • In such situations, there are three strategies that countries could pursue:
    • Balancing, that is, forming a coalition against aggressive powers.
    • Bandwagoning, that is, to join the aggressor.
    • Buck-passing means not doing anything about the situation and just waiting and watching.
  • The strategy followed by India is similar to buck-passing. The consequence of this strategy is that India may not have a voice when the world order is discussed or decided.
  • Putin is trying to create a world order which is going to be bad for everyone else, including India.
  • Tactically non-alignment opted by India makes sense but in the long run, people in Delhi have to support the people in Ukraine and India should not ignore the pain of the people. If India just wants to be a marginal player this is enough but to be a leader India needs creative thinking.
  • India is not in a position for the strategic autonomy decision if we are dependent on one or two countries for defence requirements, it is a difficult period to navigate through the crisis for India. There is an increased discussion on nuclear weapons and how they would affect other neighbouring countries. The situation has brought forth uncertainty and this is a reason for the need for a re-arrangement.
  • A reason why this negotiation would be a stalemate is that both parties have not yet lost nor exhausted. Hence Russia is going to engage in a war that lasts several years. This is an opportunity for the US to bring back the American hegemony as this is an opening to unify the European countries and bring them under the purview of American power.
  • BRICS should play a role in this. It may be a forum to discuss and see whether Putin can be tamed.
  • The General Assembly is becoming a lot more active in recent years similar to a parliament of the world, the UN is needed even though there is veto power. UN is not fully a failure yet.
  • It’s not clear how strong Ukraine would have become without the support of the United States and other powers and so Ukraine was hoping to join NATO. If NATO brings their forces into Ukraine and provides them security, Article 5 would have kicked in which meant “an attack on any member of NATO is an attack on all”. That is what all these countries want and that is what Russia wanted to prevent.

Speaker: Amb T P Sreenivasan

  • The war is not against Ukraine but between Russia and NATO.
  • The objective is not to dominate or defeat Ukraine but to get security for Russia which can be given only by the US and NATO. Putin has started with talking about security concerns and developed claims to re-establishing the USSR.
  • Putin expected that the attack on Ukraine would bring NATO and United States to his terms but instead there was a series of strong sanctions on Russia which is suffocating them – “this is a new kind of war”, fighting a war with sanctions.
  • India may have made everybody unhappy but this is not a bad diplomatic move and Russia offering oil is a blessing amidst the surging fuel prices.
  • The agreement between Putin and Xi Jinping is not just an agreement or coalition, it is more than that.
  • India had been hoping that China and the US might get into a cold war but the present developments might drive India to the US but this would put India in a bad place as India has a supply chain from Russia.
  • We can compare it to the pandemic, we thought it would end in a year or two but rather we have learnt to live with the pandemic. Similarly, we might have to learn to live with the present situation.
  • There is a history to the present non-alignment policy of India. We took the same position in 1979 during the Afghanistan crisis.
  • Moreover, India cannot forget the vetoes that the Soviet Union exercised in the security council at the time of Kashmir, Goa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan. If those vetoes were not used at that time, India would have been embarrassed. You have to bear these backgrounds in mind. Therefore, we could not have done differently now. It is a flexible position and we could, as time passes, play around with the position. If we had taken a strong position in for or in denial, we would have been in a difficult position.
  • The difference between non-alignment and strategic autonomy is the lack of ideological commitment in the latter.
  • Our biggest challenge is how we manage our relationship with the US in the context of China.
  • Ukraine had to sign the NPT as soon as it became autonomous. Putin would not use a nuclear weapon like that wouldn’t serve his purpose. But even the threat of using nuclear weapons is a crime according to international law.
  • India will be pushed by the US to engage in sanctions against Russia, at least not take in fuel. India is in a dangerous position but, at present, it seems like India is aware of this and the one thing that can be done is to follow universal alignment and not selective alignment.
  • Technology is very important especially when we are discussing defence equipment. Now, though we are not influenced by US policies directly, we are indirectly influenced because of this reason.
  • Big powers are the ones who affect history beginning with imperialism. Legitimacy comes from having values and in order to be acceptable by others, there is a need for having ideas that are acknowledged and accepted by others. 
  • As long as the veto provision is there, there is never unanimity in the decision of the UNSC. The role of the UN has changed substantially from peace-making to peace-keeping.

The event report is Jointly prepared by the research team, CPPR

In case you missed it, watch the event recording here

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