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Major General Suresh

Chandra Mohanty, AVSM

India has abstained twice in the United Nations General Assembly, in the resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There has been intense debate in the strategic community for and against India’s stand and where India should draw its line in aligning with Russia. Given the historical context of India – Russia relations and strategic compulsions of a balanced approach, India’s foreign policy mandarins didn’t appear to have much choice. However, the dividends of such an approach must be viewed in light of a post Ukraine conflict scenario and intricacies of subcontinental geopolitics. The Russian potential to diplomatically and militarily assist India in the future will be severely curtailed due to crippling economic sanctions. India and China may have been on the same page at the UNSC on the issue but that doesn’t translate into convergence in subcontinental geopolitics.

India shares a 3488 KM of unresolved border with China which since June 2020 has become extremely contested and volatile. Unlike the Russian strategy of using unrestricted hard power against the length and breadth of Ukraine, the Chinese strategy of salami slicing and gray zone warfare is confined to the disputed boundaries both in the continental and maritime domains backed up by unending legal, media and psychological warfare . In the event of a conflict along the line of actual control, which is most likely to be confined in time and space to the disputed areas, albeit with the capacity to expand to geographically contiguous areas as a quid pro quo option; India will have to fight its battle on its own. The US support to India in its conflict with China is likely to be restricted to providing technical intelligence, surveillance and military equipment, much less than it has been to Ukraine which lies in the heart of Europe. Even the diplomatic support to India against the Chinese territorial belligerence in the desolate Eastern Ladakh, from the West was muted and indifferent than it has been for Ukraine considering the economic costs. Given India’s stand at the UN to the discomfiture of US and EU, this support is likely to be further eroded.

In the aftermath of a debilitating Ukraine conflict, Russia is likely to be further drawn into the Chinese orbit and most certainly as a much weaker partner than in has been so far. Russia will require extensive Chinese support to rebuild its economy and restore its military potential against a more potent threat from the West and its leverage to restrain the Chinese against India will be further attenuated. While the Indian dependency on Russian military equipment and spares for over 60 percent of military hardware will continue to remain and Russia will do its utmost to fulfill its obligations due to economic considerations, it will be severely affected by extensive sanctions and its capacity to convince the Chinese to exercise restraint in a domain which the Chinese consider their core interest will be degraded. Unlike the Chinese strategy of winning without fighting after decades of ‘hiding strength and biding time’, simultaneously enabled by huge growth in economic, cyber, psychological, space, legal and diplomatic potential, the Russians do not appear to have focused on a multi domain characterization of the conflict spectrum before military coercion. The involvement of Russian diplomats in convincing the world community with respect to its justification for invading Ukraine appears distinctly absent. Conversely the Chinese have been openly belligerent in their narrative towards unification of Taiwan and have demonstrated their willingness and propensity to use force.

India continues to remain a key element of US Indo-Pacific strategy. Notwithstanding India’s reluctance to deplore the Russian aggression, the Indo-US strategic embrace is likely to withstand the rigors of Ukraine conflict; not because the US has any principled stand to democratic values ​​and rule-based world order but its own geostrategic ambition to contain China. However, there could be other areas of divergence that may become more acute; human rights, trade and freedom etc to exert pressure to toe the American line.

There is also a limit to China – Russia strategic convergence against the West, notwithstanding the joint statement of “no limit partnership, and no forbidden area of ​​cooperation’ between Putin and Xi Jinping on 04 Feb in Beijing. China wishes to be seen as a responsible and benign world power and reiterates its support for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. It is already evident in the Chinese progressive response to the conflict. The continuing escalation only makes the Chinese position more and more untenable. To sustain its aspiration of ‘Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation’, akin to restoring Russian lost glory, China cannot jettison its trade relation with the EU and the West which are its largest trade partners. It is likely to manage its relations with Russia until it becomes an avoidable nuisance and remains a catalyst to achievement of Chinese strategic goals. It is well-nigh possible that Chinese will now have the upper hand in negotiating with Russia, whether it is oil and gas trade or seeking its pound of flesh in the Arctic.

India is in the most unenviable position as regards its diplomatic apportioning keeping in view of its geopolitical challenges. In any conflict / skirmish in the subcontinent including a collusive threat, India will have to hold its own and support of either Russia or the West will be largely contingent upon their own strategic interest. It is thus imperative for India to progressively reduce its dependency on import of defense equipment through diversification and Atmanirbharta ; an approach that is easily said than done. Each range of military equipment/platform is supported by a long supply chain dependent on the country of Origin (OEM) of the main equipment. Platforms like tanks, aircrafts, ships, helicopters and submarines have a long in-service period of nearly three to four decades during which they require midservice repairs/overhaul to keep them battle worthy. Proactive and anticipatory diplomatic engagement and strategic partnership with friendly nations and those with whom we share common security challenges are essential so that it can be leveraged / expanded at the time of crisis.

A conflict along our borders is unlikely to follow the pattern of Russia- Ukraine conflict as the level of conventional asymmetry is relatively marginal. Therefore, limited conventional conflicts are likely to follow operational cycles of durations synonymous with politico military objectives and force application matrix. These will be interrupted by diplomatic initiatives to bring about a ceasefire/ end to the conflict. It is crucial for India to maintain a viable negotiating leverage through consolidation of military accomplishments during each interruption.

While an adversary may initiate a conflict as done by the Chinese in Eastern Ladakh, it may not have control over escalation. It is imperative to maintain positive control over calibrated escalatory continuum not only as a deterrent but also retain upper hand during post conflict negotiations. Shaping the diplomatic and geopolitical space prior to a conflict is as important as the kinetic battle space. It is apparent that while Russia shaped the physical battlespace satisfactorily, it failed to rally even its closest allies (except a few) in support of its invasion. A wide range of contingencies need to be worked out along both the Western and the Northern front. Force levels and objectives would have to be carefully apportioned so that we do not run out of options like the Russians in the battle of Kyiv. Ukraine has been unable to neutralize the long logistics chain of the Russians despite restricted use of Russian Airforce; which could have forced the offensive to recoil. Same will not be the case in the open Tibetan Autonomous Region. In contact battle one must use strength against enemy’s weakness/ vulnerability and not against its strength. Let’s be prepared because if we fail to prepare, we should be prepared to fail.

Kenter Joya Riba

(Managing Editor)

She is a graduate in Science with post graduation in Sociology from University of Pune. She has been in the media industry for nearly a decade. Before turning to print business, she has been associated with radio and television.
Email: kenterjoyaz@easternsentinel.in / editoreasternsentinel@gmail.com
Phone: 0360-2212313

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