India has been taking a positive and active approach to pushing for peace in Ukraine. It along with other goodwill countries are trying to get the belligerent parties to seriously negotiate ending the war. But has this war entered a stage where such efforts by New Delhi are evermore becoming largely wasted on these two parties? Two sides which are decidedly determined to fight and destroy to the bitter end in a largely European war far outside the Indian subcontinent? It is also a war that may be more containable in causing uncontrolled and massive spin-off damage to India, itself. After all, the former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, now characterizes this conflict as having only a small risk of turning into a nuclear one. And one evermore unlikely turning into a global war with extreme universal fallout given US President Biden’s stated intentions not to have a confrontation with China. And one where NATO has shown continuous constraint not to take Moscow head-on. Quite rightly, though, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister S. Jaishankar have said this should not be an era of war. Consistently, India’s message these days is one of inclusiveness and peace. Themes that India as chair of both the G20 this year and the UN Security Council are well placed to promote.
Yet, if such parties as NATO and hardline elements in Russia are determined to “abuse” sincere efforts by the likes of India to push peace, what is left for India to do? For one thing, India is smartly putting larger efforts in practical ways to mitigate the domestic fallout from the conflict, be it on energy to food and beyond with regards to its own citizens. This may be a better place to focus. This includes stepping up purchases of price discounted Russian energy and fertilizer which are helping to reduce the suffering of its population and to keep its energy and overall agricultural and industrial sectors from not faltering so much. In a country that has still deep pockets of poverty, underemployment and uncomfortable inflation, its “even-handed” stance towards Moscow is practical, not only morally just. The practicality of its partnership with the United States in the Quad along with Japan and Australia is also appropriate. For this Indo-Pacific cooperation is particularly relevant given the skirmishes and damages relating to China’s incursions over India’s borders, recently and in past years and even previous decades. Such a balanced geopolitical approach, therefore needs to be maintained. It should not be permitted to be compromised by current and likely future developments by the war in Europe.
However, it may be time, indeed to take further stock of the growing realities of this conflict battled out in Ukraine. An analogy is a well-meaning third party (India) trying to reconcile a troubled couple, (the West/ Ukraine vs Russia). And that it has no favourites but a serious interest in both doing well, though it may have to come to a sad understanding. That the “couple” has such irreconcilable differences and such high levels of mutual distrust, that nothing India and others in the South can do will bridge their hard differences. That the best India must do now is to minimize the geopolitical and overall fallout from this war and manoeuvre around it from pulling India down into an abyss, too. Some may argue, on the other hand that these divisions are not so hard as I characterize. After all, President Macron of France with a certain degree of support from Germany is talking up security guarantees for Russia. Thus, positive players like India should continue trying to promote peace between the two? I argue, however, that such an approach by the South including from the likes of India may have reached a stage of near exhaustion in bringing about tangible conflict resolution if not leading to a sense of futility. The path to peace is not helped either by the strong resistance to Macron’s peace ideas by Poland, the Baltics and Slovakia. This all must be put into important historical contexts. Some in the West have well argued that with Russia largely tearing up the Budapest memorandum on being a guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty in the exchange of Ukraine getting rid of its nuclear warheads, was a major breach in trust building. This breach may have been even exceeded by the duplicitous signing of the Minsk accords by Germany and Ukraine, with the subsequent admission that these two parties that they had no intention to implement what would have been a cornerstone for peace in Ukraine. So here is how it will likely go. It is highly unlikely that there will be any security agreement as Macron conceptualized. The warring sides are just too far apart. It may take a whole new Russia, even overall culturally for suitable atmospherics and sufficient trust to be reestablished.
Peace would also not likely come about if Putin were to exit the Russian leadership as some simplistic analysis has been made by a former US ambassador to Moscow. Russian war policy is not simply only a singular extension of the current Kremlin head. In fact, there is a real danger that Russia may be now thinking that Ukraine will never be truly neutral. Or even thinking that NATO will never succumb to Moscow’s strongly held view that this alliance should cease expanding its membership including among countries bordering it or near it. Sweden and Finland to soon join NATO in all likelihood is the proof on the ground that if anything, Brussels will even accelerate that expansion and certainly not stop it. And in that sense Ukraine’s application to join NATO will likely go forward though not necessarily quickly. So what is in it for Moscow to listen to peace-maker, India? Russia must also now consider that Ukraine will be evermore armed to the teeth with an evermore well-trained army and better trained population to provide costly resistance to any possible future march by Moscow on Kiev. In effect, Ukraine has as close enough a guarantee of its security now over 85 percent of its original territory. And whatever NATO does in Ukraine, for the most part, a nuclear Russia still with a large-sized conventional military is unassailable on its own territory. Moscow may be prepared to live with that reality. But signing a peace agreement with Kiev seems worse under Kiev’s proposal of insisting all former Ukrainian territory, now under Moscow’s control and/ or “imagined” jurisdiction be given up. Unless Ukraine radically changes its position—or Moscow, which has little good reason to do so given its thinking—India and other such parties should not put much into their efforts to bring these parties to a peace. Russia, I continue to argue does not even need security agreements from Europe, nor would likely trust European signatures. Besides, it is too well armed to the teeth overall, especially with nuclear weapons. Some of which it can bring by submarines close to Washington and New York City, for example giving the US only a few minutes to shoot them down. But with the distinct possibility that at least one devastating warhead would get through wiping out the western world’s financial capital and/or much of the decision making capacity in Washington, the centre piece of NATO and Europe’s defence. On Europe’s side, it knows Washington is committed to Article 4 and 5 which spells out an attack on one NATO member can be considered an attack on all. Hence, any Moscow attack would also likely evoke a highly consequential response far from positive to Russian existential interests.
Thus, the war will continue in Ukraine and/or its stalemate will cement the existing security as described above— even if far from an ideal security? India can likely do little to stop this. But beyond that, India, has a duty given its growing geopolitical clout, record of restraint to avoid getting into useless, endless wars and its leadership against terrorism to keep pushing for a global culture of inclusiveness and peace. Who knows, such constructive ideas and G20 leadership by India may help penetrate, one day those leaders’ minds and spirits too easily invested in war. Peter Dash is an educator and former Associate of Harvard University who has written widely on peace and development.