India as Mediator
GS PAPER 2: International Relations
Prelims Exam: Area Captured by Russia, Institution involved in it
Mains Exam: India’s Position as a Mediator
Russian withdrawal from Kherson and its euphoric repossession by Ukraine, the declaration of the “beginning of the end of war” by President of Ukraine comes across more as a defiant call to continued fighting than a serious prediction.
The Russo-Ukrainian War has been ongoing between Russia (alongside Russian separatists in Ukraine) and Ukraine since February 2014.Following Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and supported pro-Russian separatists in the war in Donbas against Ukrainian government forces, fighting for the first eight years of the conflict also included naval incidents, cyberwarfare, and heightened political tensions. In February 2022, the conflict saw a major escalation as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
What was Putin’s original goal?
Sending troops into Ukraine from the north, south and east, he told the Russian people his goal was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine“. His declared aim was to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government, claims which have no basis in evidence. It was framed as an attempt at preventing Nato from gaining a foothold in Ukraine.
How Putin changed his war aims
The military pulled back from around Kyiv and Chernihiv and regrouped in the north-east. The main goal was now the “liberation of Donbas”, broadly referring to Ukraine’s two industrial regions in the east of Luhansk and Donetsk.
The reason for the withdrawal was a failure to appreciate the agility of Ukrainian forces or to secure supply lines. An early symbol of Russia’s poor logistics was a 64km (40-mile) armoured convoy that ground to a halt near Kyiv.
Russian military aircraft flying over the Baltic and Black Seas often do not indicate their position or communicate with air traffic controllers, thus posing a potential risk to civilian airliners. NATO aircraft scrambled many times in late April 2022 in order to track and intercept these aircraft near alliance airspace. The Russian aircraft intercepted never entered NATO airspace, and the interceptions were conducted in a safe and routine manner.
Is Nato to blame?
- Nato member states have increasingly sent Ukraine air defence systems to protect its cities as well as missile systems, artillery and drones that have helped turn the tide against Russia’s invasion.
- But it is not to blame for the war and it was, after all, Russia’s invasion that persuaded Sweden and Finland to apply formally to join the military alliance.
- When Russia said it was annexing four Ukrainian provinces in late September, Ukraine also said it was seeking fast-track Nato membership.
- Blaming Nato’s expansion eastwards is a Russian narrative that has gained some ground in Europe. Before the war, President Putin demanded Nato turn the clock back to 1997 and remove its forces and military infrastructure from Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
- In his eyes the West promised back in 1990 that Nato would expand “not an inch to the east”, but did so anyway.
Russia’s nuclear signaling
- Russia sees itself at war, not with non-nuclear Ukraine, but with a nuclear armed NATO.
- Putin ordered a ‘partial mobilization’, announced referendums in the four regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, accused the West of engaging in nuclear blackmail and warned that Russia has ‘more modern weapons’ and ‘will certainly make use of all weapon systems available; this is not a bluff’.
- Russian Defence Minister has spoken to his counterparts including India that Ukraine may be preparing to use a ‘dirty bomb’ . So, we can easily predict that in retaliation, Russia can use its nuclear weapons.
- However, Russian nuclear use makes little operational sense. In 1945, Japan was on the verge of surrender and only the U.S. possessed nuclear weapons.
- Use of a tactical nuclear weapon will only strengthen Ukrainian national resolve; NATO response is unlikely to be nuclear but will be sharp.
Four questions to consider
For India to be a mediator, four key questions need to be answered.
- First is the bandwidth. India needs to have an understanding of the dynamics
within Russia and Ukraine, and Russia and the European players, including
Russia’s neighbours Moldova, Finland, and Poland. The dynamic between Ukraine and European partners also has to be understood well. And, of course, what Russia wants in the end, and what are the shared interests of NATO, Europe and the US.
- Second will be the question of experience in negotiating amid a global crisis. Indian diplomats have effectively negotiated in bilateral and multilateral formats,but negotiating in a crisis is a different question. In the early 1950s, India had played a role throughout the Korean War, proposing the creation of a commission to facilitate the repatriation of prisoners. Despite initial resistance from China and Russia, India’s resolution was accepted in December 1952 at the UN General Assembly, and the Neutral Nations Repatriation Committee was set up with India at the helm.In recent decades, India has sought to mediate in affairs closer home, but has burnt its fingers — like in Sri Lanka when it was going through a civil war.
- The third question will be the risk-taking ability of the Indian establishment. While New Delhi has been audacious about risky manoeuvres in its immediate region, such as the surgical strikes in Pakistan and Myanmar, inserting itself into a geopolitical crisis of this magnitude is very different. Especially in a situation where, as a broker of peace, there is no guarantee of a win.
- Fourth is the question of credibility, which India feels it has gained by walking the tightrope. But some in the West may view India as closer to Russia. Also, both Ukraine and Russia have to agree to Delhi having the credibility to be the
Why is India regarded as the best mediator?
- Neutral player: As India has walked the diplomatic tightrope, it has won credibility on both sides as a mediator between them.
- Successful diplomatic involvement earlier:
- Preventing the attack on the nuclear power station at Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine.
- During the Black Sea grain shipment, discussions to intervene with Russia.
- Leader of Global South: Mexico had suggested that the PM of India, Pope Francis and the UN Secretary-General should mediate the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
- Good relations with Moscow and the West: India can use this unique leverage to put pressure on Russia to end its war in Ukraine.
- Geopolitical aspirations: Peace-making might help India gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The key lesson learnt was that the two nuclear superpowers should steer clear of any direct confrontation even as their rivalry played out in other regions, thereby keeping it below the nuclear threshold. Deterrence theorists called it the ‘stability instability paradox’.