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India won’t abandon Moscow

Vladimir Putin with Indian PM Narendra Modi in 2018. Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty

The UN has passed several major votes criticising Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And in each one, says Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan in The Atlantic, India has pointedly abstained. On the surface, this is a surprising stance. The world’s biggest democracy is a “growing ally” of the US, and has itself been suffering border incursions from “a more powerful and expansionist autocratic neighbour” – in its case, China. But while Indians are divided on most issues, there is a “rare consensus” on Ukraine: they’re not going to abandon Moscow. There have been no big pro-Ukraine protests. Newspaper columnists “compare the Russian invasion to the US war in Iraq”.

The main reason is history. Colonialism imbued in India an “understandable anti-Western sentiment” that morphed into anti-Americanism in the Cold War. During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, the perception among Indians was that the Soviet Union provided “unconditional” support to New Delhi, whereas the Americans’ assistance came with “strings attached”. (The reality was rather more complicated.) Historical bonds aside, India is also “deeply dependent on Russian weapons”. Around 85% of its military kit is of Russian or Soviet origin – without access to spares and replacements, that equipment won’t be fit for purpose. India may change its stance on Russia, especially if Moscow keeps cosying up to Beijing. But its current position is a reminder that it’s not always a question of “democracy versus autocracy”.