India and the Ukraine Crisis

This quick take is part of our Crisis Crossroads series, which highlights timely analysis by CSIS scholars on the evolving situation in Ukraine and its security, economic, energy, and humanitarian effects.

India has managed to maintain close relations with Russia while dramatically improving strategic ties with the United States. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made this position hard to maintain. India holds a rotating seat on the UN Security Council, so India’s detachment is highly visible. India has real concerns with taking a harder line against Russia—a sharp “snap” should not be expected. But it should prompt Delhi to accelerate the broadening of its sources of key defense materiel.

Indian officials have articulated a range of reasons its messaging on the widened Russian invasion of Ukraine is relatively benign. The default message, “India’s long-term relationship with Russia,” carries some truth. Many Indian officials consider the Russian invasion as “Europe’s problem.” The silence from most European nations as China initiated a land-grab against India in recent years provides a thick fig leaf for India to avoid taking a hardline.

However, India has more pressing concerns. Russia remains the largest foreign supplier of key armaments. India’s military capabilities, notably air power and undersea warfare, would quickly deteriorate without a steady supply of spares—at a time, India is involved in an ongoing military standoff with China. India is also concerned Moscow could transfer advanced military technologies to Pakistan.

India faces repercussions if it avoids a harder condemnation of Russian actions. Concerns about India’s own commitment to democracy will be reinforced. Most significantly, India is reportedly close to deploying its first Russian-made S-400 Triumf missile defense systems. This will be the trigger point for U.S. sanctions against India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). While a narrow waiver provision exists, the world is augmenting sanctions against Russia, making a waiver more difficult.

India’s position on the invasion may stiffen in the days ahead. But India has significant reasons to maintain relations with Russia. But this invasion should hasten India’s diversification of defense supplies toward nations more aligned with India’s long-term security interests.

Richard M. Rossow is a senior adviser and the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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