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N.C.Balaji Rajan: How the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is to be viewed in the larger context of global politics, and how will it affect India?

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  • Amit Kumar replies: The ongoing Ukrainian crisis has thrown open new challenges before the international community in this era of globalisation. The realities of the current era are not the same as the realities of the Cold War era, when the inter-linkages between the rival blocs were not as defining as they are today among the major contending stakeholders at the world stage. Today, rivals are also key economic partners. One of the important stakeholders in the Ukrainian crisis, the European Union (EU), is the biggest customer for Russian oil and gas. The Ukrainian crisis is to be viewed in this parlance along with the old fashioned quest for domination or power-politics in the Morgenthauian sense. President Vladimir Putin’s efforts for restoring Russia’s position in the international arena is largely a fall out of the West’s insensitivity towards the legitimate security interests of Russia and its resurgence as a great power which it was for most part of history given its position as world's geopolitical heartland.

    The world today is besieged with many conflicts having the potential to go out of hand if the current trend continues. But then what is the current trend? The economic interdependence between and among nations has discouraged them to take sides openly. The equation today at the world stage is very fluid. No two countries hold the same view on various international issues unlike in the Cold War era when the battle lines were very clear. This entails two things: (a) greater propensity to change the status quo in one’s own favour, for e.g., Russia’s bid to annex Crimea and the Sino-Japan desperation over the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands (b) economic interdependence has emerged as the second strong deterrent force along with the nuclear deterrent.

    Situating the Ukrainian crisis in the above context, few conclusions can be drawn:

    1. The EU has emerged as an effective foreign policy actor and can stand up to Russia. However, the trade relations between the EU and Russia restrict the options for the EU.

    2. The use of sanctions as a tool will not work against robust economies like Russia and China, and this limits the US role as a preeminent global power.

    3. Emerging powers like Russia may challenge the US-led world order in an increasingly economically interdependent and politically fragmented world order. New alliances could emerge as the undercurrent against the US domination is strong. The growing understanding between Russia and China, as evident in the current Ukrainian crisis in China’s ambivalence towards the Russian aggression, could pose serious challenges before the US. The world could see more of such crisis in times to come.

    4. The US faces the dilemma of acting tough or working towards finding a diplomatic solution. The first option does not look feasible given the US preoccupation in many other parts of the world and its reluctance in recent years to get directly involved in conflict theatres. But from this flows the US dilemma, for failure to send strong signals to Russia will only bolster the Iranians, Syrians and others.

    Implications for India:

    India so far has tried to maintain a balanced position on the issue. If Russia is the most trusted ally, the European Union is India’s largest trading partner. India like China seems to be standing by Russia, albeit with some reservations. In the long-term, following could be some of the key issues of concern for India:

    1) India’s worry is over the fate of Ukraine’s military industrial complex which plays an instrumental role in the modernisation of its air force. Russia also uses Ukrainian military facilities which provide engines for military helicopters of Russian origin. The previous regime saw rapid strides in defence cooperation between the two countries.

    2) International oil and gas prices would go up in a conflict situation. It will adversely affect India as it is dependent on imports for its energy needs. This will pressure the rupee and may lead to a rise in the current account deficit.

    3) Safety of Indian nationals - According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs release, there are more than 5,000 Indian nationals, including about 4,000 students, living in different parts of Ukraine.

    4) India and Ukraine have signed a vast array of MoUs and agreements in diverse fields; the fate of which is now uncertain.

    5) Finally, a strong Russian reaction to the Ukrainian crisis could put India in a somewhat tricky situation. On one hand, it would be difficult for India to endorse Crimea’s secession to Russia based on referendum given India’s long held stance on J&K; on the other, should the crisis deepen, leaving Russia in a lurch would be tantamount to betrayal.

    Posted on April 1, 2014