2022 FEB 24
International relations > India and Global Regions > India & Central Asia
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has initiated military operations in Ukraine.
- Ukraine is a country wedged between Russia and Europe. Ukraine borders with seven countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Russia, and Belarus.
- The country has been under partial or total Russian rule for most of its history. As a result, today Ukraine has a large ethnic Russian population and one in three speaks Russian as their native language.
- It was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and since then has been a democracy with a weak economy and foreign policy that wavers between pro-Russian and pro-European.
- When the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine gave its considerable nuclear stockpile back to Russia in exchange for security guarantees that protected it from a potential Russian attack.
- However, following the Crimea annexation by Russia in 2014, Ukraine has been a major centre of geopolitical tension.
- It is a strategically significant peninsula in the Black Sea.
- Crimea has technically been part of Ukraine since 1954, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
- From 1991 up through February 2014, it was a Ukrainian region that had special autonomy and large Russian military bases.
- However, in February and March 2014, Russia invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine:
- Russia considers it a rightful and historical region of Russia that it helped to liberate in March.
- Most of the world considers Crimea to be a region of Ukraine that is under hostile Russian occupation.
- The country is divided between Ukrainians who see the country as part of Europe and those who see it as intrinsically linked to Russia.
- The recent tussle began in November 2013, when Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union.
- This sparked the ‘Euromaidan’ protests, which Yanukovych attempted to put down violently. Russia backed Yanukovych in the crisis, while the US and Europe supported the protesters.
- In February, anti-government protests toppled the Ukrainian government. However, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea the next month.
- In April, the separatists, backed by Moscow, took control of two regions in eastern Ukraine: Donetsk and Luhansk. During this period, the rebels shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17, killing 298 people.
- These events brought the relationship between Russia and the West to its lowest point since the Cold War and sanctions were imposed on Russia.
- Russia and Ukraine signed the Minsk peace accord to halt the armed conflict in east Ukraine. But it has not been effective.
- In January 2021, Ukraine urged the US to speed up the country’s membership into the NATO. This angered Russia, which started sending troops near its Ukraine border for "training exercises".
- Now, Russia has recognized the two rebel-controlled regions' independence, setting the stage for fresh conflicts.
- Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances:
- The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances refers to the political agreements signed in 1994 to provide security assurances to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine by the United States, Russia, and Britain.
- The memorandum included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
- These assurances played a key role in persuading the Ukrainian government to give up its nuclear arsenal and accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons.
- Minsk agreements:
- Minsk I:
- Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed a 12-point ceasefire deal in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in September 2014.
- Its provisions included prisoner exchanges, deliveries of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
- The agreement quickly broke down, with violations by both sides.
- Minsk II:
- Brokered by France and Germany, representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the leaders of two pro-Russian separatist regions signed a 13-point agreement in February 2015.
- It set out military and political steps that remain unimplemented. Moscow and Kyiv interpret the pact very differently, leading to what has been dubbed by some observers as the “Minsk conundrum”.
WHY RUSSIA IS AGGRESSIVE:
- Cultural ties with Ukraine:
- Russia has historical, ethnic and linguistic connections to Ukraine. Russian leaders talk about intervening to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
- Demilitarise neighbourhood:
- Russia wants to prevent Ukraine from breaking away from Russian influence and falling under the Western powers, which Moscow sees as a western conspiracy to encircle Russia with hostile governments.
- Ukraine’s NATO membership:
- Russia is seeking assurances from the US that Ukraine will not be inducted into NATO. Russia also wants a reduction of NATO troops and military equipment in eastern Europe in order for its military forces to be withdrawn. However, the US is not prepared to give such assurances.
- To relax sanctions over Russia:
- Russian economy is suffering under the global sanctions. Russia wants tensions in Ukraine border in order to get sanctions relief and concessions from the West.
- Interests over Black Sea:
- The Black Sea is an important trade and transportation artery for Russia. Russia also sees the Black Sea as essential for projecting its power and influence in the Mediterranean and beyond. To attain this, they need a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.
CONCERNS FOR INDIA:
- Safety of Indians:
- More than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas. Many of these students are enrolled in medical colleges in Ukraine. Their safe evacuation remains a major challenge.
- Threat to global peace and stability:
- Russian incursion can solicit a response from the United States and its NATO allies and could trigger another global war.
- The conflict has also complicated the prospects for cooperation in key areas like terrorism, arms control, and a political solution in Syria and Afghan.
- Diplomatic dilemma:
- A large share of India’s military hardware is of Russian-origin and India also values Russian support at the multilateral level, such as the UN, BRICS and the SCO. These are considerations that India cannot overlook, especially at a time when a tense border standoff with China is ongoing.
- Challenge to India’s balancing act:
- While India has a time-tested relation with Russia, India-US relations have been on an upswing in recent years. Also, Russia has leverage with China. Hence, India is reluctant to be seen as taking a side in the crisis.
- This is why India abstained from supporting the US-led coalition against Russia in UNSC, while calling for de-escalation through diplomatic efforts and addressing legitimate security concerns of all nations.
- Impact on defence procurement:
- The trajectory of Ukraine-Russia tension can impact how US administration react to Russian supplies of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system to India which began last year.
- Economic instability:
- Following Russian attacks on 24th February, share markets have plunged and oil prices have surged past USD 100 a barrel. This is a concern for India, as it will increase the import bills and create uncertainty in the market.
- Rise in commodity prices:
- Sunflower oil is the second most imported edible oil in India. Ukraine and Russia together account for 90% of India’s sunflower oil imports. The crisis can escalate the edible oil prices in India.
- Challenge to energy security:
- India fulfils over half of its gas needs with imports of liquified natural gas (LNG) from Ukraine. A small part of India’s LNG consumption is also met through imports from Russia. Crisis in Ukraine and sanctions over Russia can disrupt the supply.
- Decline in Pharma export:
- India’s main exports to Ukraine include pharmaceutical products. India is the third largest exporter of pharmaceutical products to Ukraine. Companies like Ranbaxy, Sun Group and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories have representative offices in Ukraine.
Tensions in Ukraine is a concern for India and the world alike. A possible solution to de-escalate the situation could be to revive the Minsk peace process.
However, getting directly involved in Ukraine would be a disaster for India. Hence, India should tread a fine line that balances its response without damaging its relationship. Also, India should also brace for a diplomatic offensive from the US and Russia.
In the meantime, escalation in Ukraine could shift focus and allow China an opportunity to act even more aggressively against India. Hence, India should strengthen its vigil, especially in the disputed border areas.
Q. Discuss the implications of Ukraine-Russia conflicts on Indian interests?