Response To C. Raja Mohan: Russia’s Ukrainian Setback Shouldn’t Change India’s Calculations
I’m aware of how highly esteemed Mr. Mohan is and therefore felt it important to politely respond to his latest article since I disagree with the spirit of what he’s proposing.
Well-known Indian expert C. Raja Mohan recently penned a piece for The Indian Express titled “Russia’s setback in Ukraine: India must be alive to changes on the ground”. Although the preceding hyperlink is paywalled, it was also published in print, which is how I came across it since I closely follow his country’s media coverage of the Ukrainian Conflict, India’s relations with Russia, and how the former have influenced the latter. I’m aware of how highly esteemed Mr. Mohan is and therefore felt it important to politely respond to his latest article since I disagree with the spirit of what he’s proposing.
He basically posits that the Ukrainian Conflict might have reached a turning point after Kiev’s recent Kharkov Counteroffensive compelled Moscow to unexpectedly cede several thousand square kilometers of territory in the northeastern part of that former Soviet Republic. Mr. Mohan shared his particular explanation behind that fast-moving sequence of events while I earlier put forth my own in a five-part series, the last piece of which asks “Is It Time For A More Muscular Policy To Replace Russia’s Special Military Operation?” and hyperlinks to the prior four parts.
While each of our respective insights into that development might be interesting for the reader, my disagreement with Mr. Mohan is mostly about its five broad dimensions that he says will be worth a close watch for Delhi. His observations can be summarized as follows:
1. The latest setback might prompt unclear domestic political consequences for Russia;
2. President Putin will either cut his losses in Ukraine or escalate;
3. Moscow’s post-Soviet “sphere of influence” might weaken, with Belarus being a test case;
4. European unity over Ukraine remains uncertain and will be largely determined by US influence;
5. And a potential Russian defeat would change its relations with China as well as Chinese-US ties too.
Mr. Mohan ended his piece by concluding that “the intensive diplomatic season this month…should give Delhi a good sense of the changing dynamic in Ukraine and develop an effective response.” His innuendo is that it should consider disengaging from Russia, which I completely disagree with.
First, as I explained in detail in my analysis over the summer about how “Speculation About Russia Becoming A Chinese Puppet Ignores India’s Decisive Balancing Role”, India’s grand strategic goal has been to preemptively avert Russia’s potentially disproportionate dependence on China as a valve for unprecedented Western pressure. I also hyperlinked to related analyses explaining these calculations in detail, including the one that I published at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in early June about how “India Is Irreplaceable Balancing Force in Global Systemic Transition”.
Second, while I disagree with Mr. Mohan’s suggestion that the military-strategic tide might have just turned in Ukraine so India should accordingly prepare for the scenario of a major Russian loss there, that interpretation of events actually adds even more impetus to my insight from the preceding paragraph. If decisionmakers in Delhi end up planning for Moscow’s defeat (which I personally advise against since I believe that scenario is premature), then the most effective policy that they could formulate is to further supercharge their comprehensive strengthening of strategic relations with their Eurasian partner.
Third, I’m of the belief that the Ukrainian Conflict probably won’t end in a decisive victory for either side barring any black swan event, but that it’s already irreversibly accelerated the global systemic transition to multipolarity. The dynamics connected to this confluence of complex processes can be read about in detail in the preceding hyperlink that analyzes the Director of the Foreign Policy Planning Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ explanation of everything from early August. Of relevance to India, decisionmakers mustn’t be misled by media reports or op-eds into denying these trends.
Fourth, the US has successfully reasserted its unipolar hegemony over Europe for the most part since the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict began in late February. This has taken the form of crippling its currency’s only credible rival by coercing the bloc into promulgating counterproductive anti-Russian sanctions as well as forcing the EU into an intractable security dilemma with Russia which necessitates Brussels’ indefinitely continued military dependence on Washington. These moves are meant to manage the Western Eurasian front for the coming future ahead of the US refocusing on containing China.
And fifth, the scenario of Chinese-Russian ties weakening in parallel with Chinese-US ties improving isn’t realistic since America is already very clearly making an unprecedented power play to simultaneously contain its two peer competitors in Eurasia. This is being advanced in order to prolong its declining unipolar hegemony and thus delay the full unfolding of multipolarity. The Ukrainian Conflict will inevitably end, after which America will apply its lessens to Eastern Eurasia in order to more effectively contain China. India must therefore be careful not to let itself be manipulated as a US proxy war pawn.
To wrap it all up, Mr. Mohan’s envisaged end game is that Russia will probably lose in Ukraine, hence why he insinuates that India should already begin planning for that scenario by improving ties with the West. The unspoken suggestion is that Delhi should jump on Washington’s bandwagon by condemning and possibly even sanctioning Moscow in order to side with the winners while it still has time. I, however, maintain that India should stay the course in its balancing act and especially the pivotal Russian dimension thereof in order to maximize its strategic autonomy in the multipolar world order.
Our divergent visions are attributable to our different worldviews whereby Mr. Mohan comes off as more sympathetic to the West whereas I’m proudly critical of it and am thus much more sympathetic of those multipolar Great Powers like Russia, India, and China that are rapidly rising as a result of the ongoing global systemic transition. There’s nothing wrong with either of our outlooks but it’s still important for the reader to be aware that we represent very different schools of thought, which in turn results in very different policy suggestions for India and those other countries that we write about.