What is the role of Pakistan, India, and China in the Russian Ukraine War?

What is the role of Pakistan, India, and China in the Russian Ukraine War?

Photo by Clark Gu on Unsplash

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has forced countries in South Asia to make tough diplomatic and economic decisions. India and Pakistan are both in a precarious situation. New Delhi has tight relations with both Moscow and Washington and has historically refrained from opposing Russian aggression, including the invasion of Crimea in 2014.

So far, Russian authorities have been delighted with India’s public pronouncements on the present problem. New Delhi’s envoy to the United Nations refrained to condemn Russia’s actions this week, instead urging all parties to display “utmost restraint.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi contacted Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to appeal for talks and a cease-fire. Russian action in Ukraine, on the other hand, poses a serious threat to Indian interests, from pushing Moscow into Beijing’s arms to diverting Washington’s attention away from opposing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Moreover, Russia and China have traditionally maintained a tight connection, with the two nations becoming closer as their tensions with the US escalate. Their partnership covers military cooperation, public diplomacy, and energy security, with the latter category gaining pace as Russia becomes a more vital supply of liquefied natural gas for China, the world’s fastest-growing market for fuel.

China has been silent on the increasing situation in Ukraine so far, owing to its desire to strike a delicate balance between the West and Russia.

Russia’s decision to recognize separatist territories in Ukraine and deploy soldiers in has not been criticized by China, but foreign affairs minister Wang Yi stressed so over weekends that every country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity “should be respected and safeguarded,” including Ukraine’s. Wang and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke by phone yesterday (February 22).

Additionally, since India’s relations with the US have improved since 2014, being silent on Russia’s actions has become a greater risk. New Delhi has already come under fire for purchasing the S-400 missile defense system from Russia last year. Although the United States is expected to lift sanctions in exchange for the purchase, recent developments imply that the Biden administration will increase pressure on India to prevent future Russian military shipments.

The hesitation of India to name Russia risks inflaming relations within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Australia, Japan, and the United States have all declared penalties on Russia. India’s stance may also irritate European nations, on which it relies for commerce, armaments, and assistance in battling China. The more Moscow widens its invasion, the more India’s difficult disagreements with important partners would be exposed.

Manjari Chatterjee Miller argued in Foreign Affairs this week that now is the moment for India to reverse policy and encourage Russia to de-escalate. For New Delhi, though, old policies die hard. Even after a fatal border clash with China in 2020, India has refused to proclaim an alliance with the US. Furthermore, given Putin’s unwavering stance on Ukraine, India is unlikely to be able to stop him even if it tried. Russia is a management problem for India, rather than a threat to be addressed.

Pakistan’s dilemma is less acute, but it is more pressing. After Putin launched the military operations in Ukraine, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan concluded his visit to Moscow. Relations between the two nations have been improving for several years, owing in large part to geopolitical factors such as Russia’s strengthening ties with China, Pakistan’s ally, and some sluggishness in India-Russia relations.

The visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to Moscow was solely for bilateral cooperation, but the timing may give the impression that Pakistan indirectly endorsed Putin’s decree on breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, as well as the invasion — which began just hours after Khan landed in Moscow. However, Islamabad is unlikely to endorse the moves: According to a Ukrainian transcript, Pakistan’s envoy in Kyiv voiced support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity two days before Khan’s arrival.

The difficulty for Pakistan will be to develop ties with Russia without upsetting Western trade partners, all while managing a burgeoning defense alliance with Ukraine. Islamabad’s balancing job is simpler than that of New Delhi: Its relationship with the US is strained, and it has long attempted to use its alliance with China. However, given its trade ties with Europe and ambition to play a larger role in the global arena, Islamabad must be cautious not to get too close to Moscow.

The concern for Afghanistan is that the Russia-Ukraine war will divert attention away from its own humanitarian crises. The UN was already struggling to meet its $4.4 billion humanitarian aid request, which is still less than what it predicts it would require to alleviate the situation this year. Now, the time available for crafting a strategy to expand aid to the country will almost definitely be short. The Taliban have urged for a quick settlement to the Russia-Ukraine situation in order to refocus world attention back on Afghanistan.

In South Asia, the war has the potential to create economic opportunities: With Russia facing potentially crippling sanctions, it will seek new markets, and South Asia may be appealing, particularly if Russia rides on the coattails of China’s significant economic presence there. Russia does not presently have a large presence in the smaller South Asian countries, but it has examined certain trade and investment opportunities, particularly in the energy sectors of Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as in Sri Lankan tea, of which it is a significant buyer.

Moreover, because of their economic vulnerability and need to retain working links with the West, the region’s smaller governments will not want to risk falling foul of sanctions regimes. South Asia, like much of the rest of the world, prefers a swift and peaceful settlement to the Russia-Ukraine situation. That is seeming less and less plausible by the hour.

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