India’s approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, described as “strategic ambivalence” has disappointed many in the US and Europe who hoped that India, as a democracy, would join them in criticising Russia’s actions. Instead, India has chosen to keep public criticism of Russia’s invasion to a minimum, stressing dialogue and diplomacy. This can be explained in part due to India’s longstanding arms partnership with Russia and the common perception in India that USSR and then the Russian Federation has been an enduring partner to India in a way Western states have not. However, India’s approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a continuation of anti-colonial non-Alignment (NAM) of the spirit of India’s first prime minster Jawaharlal Nehru, as some have argued. Instead, it is better understood as an example of reactionary internationalism of India’s government under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In this snapshot assistant analyst Alessandra Barrow and senior strategic analyst Paul van Hooft argue that, European powers seeking to engage with like-minded states in the Indo-Pacific should consider how an assertive Hindu nationalist India may negatively impact the dynamics at play.
This paper explores the multiple motivators and nuances behind India’s strategically ambivalent approach to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its strategic split between the West and Russia and then discuss what the BJP’s geopolitical thinking means for European relations with India and other players in the Indo-Pacific going forward.
Authors: Alessandra Barrow and Paul van Hooft