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A War That Is Shrinking India’s Geopolitical Options


What was initially assumed in New Delhi to be a quick confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, the war in Europe is now raging on with no end in sight, and with its long-term implications yet unknown.


GS-II: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Dimensions of the Article

  • Why Ukraine war may reduce India’s options
  • India’s dilemmas in medium to long term
  • Way Forward

Why Ukraine war may reduce India’s options

  • For several weeks during late March and April, it seemed as though the Ukraine war presented a number of geopolitical options for New Delhi to choose from.
  • War may limit India’s options: Instead of enhancing New Delhi’s ability to make strategic choices in its broader region, the Ukraine war may actually limit the number of options available to New Delhi for at least three reasons.
  • Absence of Russia for balancing purposes: Russia as a key strategic partner is no longer available to India for balancing purposes.
  • Increased Chinese influence in the region:  Russia’s sudden absence from the Asian balance of power equations has further enhanced Chinese influence in the region.
  • By the time the war ends, whatever may be the shape of the global balance of power, the regional balance of power would have irretrievably shifted in Beijing’s favour.
  • 3] Indo-Pacific region moving out of focus: Given that the United States and its western partners are more interested on the Ukraine theatre today, their focus on China is already taking a hit, if not yet on the Indo-Pacific.

India’s dilemmas in medium to long term

Managing China

  • Weakened US influence in South Asia: While the Ukraine war has strengthened and revitalised the U.S.-led military and political coalition globally, it is bound to weaken the American influence in the Southern Asian region.
  • China is the biggest beneficiary of the U.S./western retrenchment from the region which gives it a free hand in it.
  • Russia not available: For New Delhi, Moscow is no longer available for its pursuit of its regional interests, and the U.S.’s ability to produce favourable geopolitical outcomes for India in the region is shrinking as well.
  • While there is little doubt that in the longer run, a war-fatigued and weakened Russia will become a junior partner to China, India today does have an opportunity to get Moscow to nudge Beijing to stop its irredentism on the LAC.
  • If the Chinese side, taking advantage of the Ukraine distraction, heats up the LAC, India would have to turn to the West and the U.S. for support (political, diplomatic, intelligence, etc.).
  • This would invariably hurt Russian interests. 
  • Russia, it is important that two of its Asian friends — China and India — do not clash at least while the war is still on.
  • While this may be a useful way to manage the Chinese aggression on the LAC in the short term, this will depend on how China views its dynamics with Russia and that of Russia with India.
  • Herein lies the challenge for India.
  • India’s engagement with Indo-Pacific region: If China were to stabilise the LAC at the nudging of Russia, it would also expect India to go slow on the Indo-Pacific, something India can ill-afford to do.
  • Inability to exploit contradictions: While, under normal circumstances, India could have utilised the many inherent contradictions between Moscow and Beijing, the Ukraine war has suspended those contradictions.

How Ukraine war affected India’s north-western continental strategy

  • India’s north-western continental strategy, in particular towards Afghanistan and Central Asia, too will get complicated due to the Ukraine war.
  • For over a year now, the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan is calm and the violence in Kashmir has come down.
  • More pertinently, New Delhi’s presence from Afghanistan has entirely disappeared.
  • So, it appears that the calm in Kashmir and along the LoC is a quid pro quo for the Indian withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • If this is a bargain New Delhi accepts, it will not only mean giving up its strategic interests in Afghanistan but also reducing its engagement in the Central Asian region as well at a time China is making feverish inroads into the region, right in the backyard of the Russian sphere of influence.
  • Had Moscow not been caught in the Ukraine war, it would have fended off Beijing’s attempts to take over its backyard (in one sense, China is doing to Russia using economic means what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been doing to Russia using military means).
  • During the December summit, India and Russia had decided on a number of initiatives focusing on Central Asia and Afghanistan.
  • They are unlikely to be revived anytime soon, ceding further ground to China and Pakistan.

Way Forward

The combined geopolitical impact of the ill-timed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia’s Ukraine war, and the rapid expansion of Chinese influence goes to show how New Delhi’s geopolitical choices have suddenly shrunk due to the Ukraine war.

Source – The Hindu

December 2023