On February 24 2022, Russia under Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, a sovereign state of 44 million. Russia had been suspecting all along that Ukraine’s taking to Western alliances like NATO and the EU would ultimately culminate in Ukraine joining those alliances and have their influence and weaponry especially that of Russia’s bête noire the US skirt Russian borders.
Russian military might went about reducing Ukraine to rubble, murdering and maiming innocent Ukrainians. Hospitals and civilian living facilities were bombed. Mass exodus of refugees resulted. The world community fearing that the conflict might escalate into World War III should NATO and EU decide to habitually play policemen sought to stricture Russia’s highhandedness through an UN-sponsored resolution on February 24 2022. The resolution read that ‘the council deplores in the strongest terms Russia’s aggression against Ukraine’, and decides that Russia shall immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and shall refrain from any further unlawful threat or use of force against any UN member state’ . The resolution added that ‘Russia shall immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders’.
The resolution was presented by the US and Albania and co-sponsored by Australia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania and the UK. The council’s resolution also affirmed its ‘commitment to sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders’.
India abstained from voting. She had China and UAE for company as other nations which abstained. Some company that! Russia one of the permanent members of the Security Council expectedly vetoed the resolution.
Why did India abstain?
India’s permanent representative at the UN, TS Tirumurti laid out key five points to justify the abstention.
First, it said that ‘it is deeply disturbed’, (without naming Russia), by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine.
Second, it reiterated its appeal for ‘cessation of violence’. ‘We urge that all efforts are made for immediate cessation of violence and hostilities’. He said. This was conveyed by Prime Minister Modi to Russian President Putin over phone. ‘No solution can ever be arrived at the cost of human lives’, the Indian envoy said.
Third, it flagged its core concern about Indian nationals in Ukraine. ‘We are also deeply concerned about the welfare and security of the Indian community, including a large number of students in Ukraine’, he added.
Fourth, it touched upon ‘territorial integrity and sovereignty’. ‘The contemporary global order has been built on the UN charter, international law, and respect for sovereignty and integrity of states. All member states need to honor these principles in finding a constructive way forward’. Tirumurti said.
Fifth, it advocated diplomacy. ‘Dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and dispute, however daunting it might appear at this moment’, he said. ‘It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. We must return to it. For these reasons, India has chosen to abstain on this resolution’. He added.
Not that voting in favor of the UN Security Council resolution would have scared away Putin’s forces from Ukraine. But, India could have told the world she’s against rowdyism. Against barging into sovereign nations and bulldozing them.
India’s abstention surprised nobody. She has traditionally been known to adopt an equidistant policy between the West and Russia on contentious issues. The Ukrainian crisis highlighted India’s predicament, with respect to her crucial requirement not to harm Russia, on which she depends for arms to stave off intrusions by her not-so- friendly neighbors on one side, and her equal concern not to displease the West, especially the US, whose diplomatic support she badly needs to take on Pakistani and Chinese designs against the country on the other. India was caught between the devil and the deep sea.
Compulsions notwithstanding, India wasted a golden opportunity to espouse non-violence, an entity that won her independence. She let go of an opportunity to tell the world emphatically that she abhors violence and murder of innocents, and more importantly, violation of territorial integrity, whoever the violator or murderer might be. She was caught napping where she ought to have been alert and watchful against intrusion- the very disease she suffers at the hands of her neighbors. Especially China.
India, by abstaining held the Ukrainian door wide open, along with China for Russian forces to march in to kill and maim innocents. Including patients in hospitals. Children in schools. Civilians living in apartments. It condoned blatant use of force by a warmongering tyrant. And for company, India had China to express her approval for the mayhem that was decimating Ukrainians. It stood by with China to cheer Putin’s forces as they attacked Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the Southern Ukrainian city of Enerhodar. Pushing humanity to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.
India looked like a nation selfish about her own compulsions whatever they might be. To take sides with a murderous Russia on a rampage. India ought to have evacuated her citizens trapped in Ukraine to safety by expressing in no uncertain terms its opposition to the madness that had engulfed Ukraine. Such decisions call for strong and bold leadership. India badly lacked one in this instant.
Reasons spelt out by the Indian envoy for abstaining were lame and hollow. If India was in favor of diplomacy, if she was deeply disturbed by developments in Ukraine, if she wanted violence to end in Ukraine, why abstain? She looked like a rabbit by abstaining to condemn a murderous country at her worst just because she was concerned about the safety of her own citizens in Ukraine. She looked like a poor leader of nations by adopting that stand. She made Ukrainian lives look cheaper than Indian ones. More importantly, she added one more reason why permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council should be denied to her. For, how could a country which refused to say NO to invasion, disrespect for territorial integrity, lives and basic humanness be trusted to officiate a body, whose function is to avert everything India supported through abstention of the UNSC vote to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine? That too, along with another authoritarian nation to which respect for lives, liberty and peaceful coexistence are anathema. Like China!
Moreover, India would find far less shoulders to lean on when chips are down for her because she opted to abstain from voting against Russian adventurism.