This week the leaders of the Quad countries had a surprise online meeting. Clearly the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to differences between India and the other Quad members. The leaders’ meeting appears to have been an effort to deal with those differences.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, there has been international condemnation of Russia’s actions. While all of Europe and the U.S., as well as a large number of other countries including Japan and Australia, directly condemned Moscow and imposed multiple sanctions, India has not called out Russia by name for its actions. In a U.N. Security Council vote on the Russian invasion on February 25, India along with China and United Arab Emirates abstained from the vote.
However, Ambassador Gowri Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative at the U.N., in his explanation of the Indian abstention was critical of the Russian invasion. His comments that the “contemporary global order has been built on the U.N. Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” and that “[a]ll member states need to honor these principles in finding a constructive way forward” are clearly targeted at Russia. India also expressed its “regret that the path of diplomacy was given up.”
In a second vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution to refer the Ukraine issue to an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly, India once again abstained, while offering an explanation of its position. Reiterating a similar explanation, Tirumurti said that “[i]t is regrettable that the situation in Ukraine has worsened further” and expressed concern over “the safety and security of Indian nationals, including a large number of Indian students, who are still stranded in Ukraine.”
When the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on Ukraine, India, for a third time, abstained from the vote. The Indian ambassador in his explanation expressed deep concerns “over the rapidly deteriorating situation in Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis.” India also noted that it had dispatched humanitarian assistance including medicines and medical equipment to Ukraine. His statement noted, “We remain firm in our conviction that differences can only be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy,” while urging all member states to “demonstrate their commitment to the principles of the U.N. Charter, to international law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.”
Most recently, India, along with 12 other countries, including China and Pakistan, abstained from voting at the U.N. Human Rights Council as it voted to establish an independent international commission of inquiry on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
India’s voting pattern puts New Delhi at odds with all its Quad partners because they clearly have a different view. All of India’s Quad partners have not only condemned the Russian invasion but also imposed sanctions on Russia. Australia, Japan, and the United States are among the countries that have targeted a large number of Russian entities through sanctions.
The differing statements put out following the Quad summit suggest that there are significant disagreements between India and its three Quad partners. The joint statement as well as the individual statements from the three other Quad members appear to suggest that Ukraine was the focus of the recent meeting, and the individual statements condemned the Russian invasion in strong words. The Indian statement, on the other hand, focused on other issues and only referred to Ukraine in passing, noting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized “the need to return to a path of dialogue and diplomacy.” Although the divergences in the statements may be unfortunate, nevertheless, the purpose of the meeting may not have been so much to deal with these divergences as much as to demonstrate that the U.S. remains committed to the Indo-Pacific despite the current focus on Europe.
The divergence is partly a reflection of the immediate problem of Indian nationals stuck in Ukraine as well as India’s dependence on Russia for weapons. The Indian public discourse also illustrates support for Russia and a certain suspicion of the United States, which continues to animate significant sections of the Indian strategic community. There is also some apparent concern in India about possible Chinese mischief along the Line of Actual Control.
On the positive side, there appears to be some understanding of India’s difficulties with regard to the current Ukraine crisis. Indiana Senator Todd Young, during a Senate hearing, for instance, said that “It would be foolish and deeply short-sighted for the United States to harm our relationship with India over what is occurring in Ukraine.” Similarly, Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, who was testifying at the hearing on U.S. relations with India, noted that the Indian position on the Ukraine crisis is “evolving.” Lu pointed to India’s tougher language on all states “to abide by the UN Charter to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states,” which is a clear reference to Russia, even though it did not mention Russia by name. On India’s position on Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden himself said, “We’re in consultation with India today. We haven’t resolved that completely.”
Clearly, there are differences and disagreements but it is also evident that India and the Quad partners are also willing to work together to resolve these differences.