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WASHINGTON: Stuck between a rock and a hard place in the ongoing tussle between the United States and Russia over Ukraine and Nato expansion, India is under pressure to take a clear stand on the issue amid a precipitous European standoff that threatens to slide into war.
So far India has struck a fine balance, refusing to explicitly take sides, saying the legitimate security concerns of all countries need to be addressed. While that stand appears sympathetic to Moscow, which is the side expressing security concerns in the face of Nato’s push east, there is also the matter of not redrawing borders by force, which New Delhi is against, and which US says Russia is attempting to do.
Asked at a briefing on Wednesday if India fully supported United States on the issue of Russia at the recent Quad meeting in Australia, State Department spokesman Ned Price did not give a direct answer, but said one of the core tenets of the Quad is to “reinforce the rules-based international order, and that is a rules-based order that applies equally in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe, as it does anywhere else.”
The statement appeared to be aimed at external affairs minister S Jaishankar, who when asked about the Ukraine issue told reporters after the Quad meeting in Melbourne last week that “this meeting is focused on the Indo-Pacific, so I think you should figure out the geography there.”
The apparent cop out did not impress Washington.
“We know that our Indian partners are committed to that rules-based international order. There are any number of tenets to that order. One of them is that borders cannot be redrawn by force, that large countries cannot bully small countries; that only the people of a particular country can be in a position to choose their foreign policy, their partnerships, their alliances, their associations,” Price said, adding, “Those are principles that apply equally in the Indo-Pacific as they do in Europe.”
Australia and Japan, both treaty allies of the United States, came out more explicitly on the American side in Melbourne, while India, which is not a treaty ally and has close ties with Russia, took a more nuanced position, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar saying New Delhi is “for something, not against somebody.”
That statement might require some explication this weekend when Jaishankar is slated to attend the Munich Security Conference, the high-profile annual gathering of strategic boffins. The stand that the European dispute is beyond India’s geography or interests will also be tested.
The Munich event is headlined by US vice-president Kamala Harris, who will be stepping on to the biggest international stage of her political career during the gravest European geo-political crisis in years. The build-up to the conference was preceded on Wednesday by unrelenting mistrust in Washington over Russia’s claims that is withdrawing troops from the Ukraine border; instead, US officials said there are even more Russian troops at battle stations ready for an invasion.



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