One would have expected India to come out with a strong, unequivocal and unambiguous support to Russia over developments in Crimea soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday evening at 1930 hours. But there is still no sign of such a statement from India.
India needs to stand by Russia at this moment when Moscow is keenly looking for international support over the Crimea/Ukraine crisis. India should not forget that the Crimean accession to Russia (the West calls it ‘annexation’) has uncanny similarities with Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975. That was the time when India and the Soviet Union were extremely thick, having signed a landmark treaty of friendship in 1971 which proved to be instrumental in India winning the war with Pakistan against heavy diplomatic odds given the belligerent opposition from the United States.
It is a tale of two referendums. On Sunday, 97 percent of Crimean population voted to secede from Ukraine. A day after this referendum Putin quickly moved and signed an executive order "to approve the draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea on adopting the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation."
The US and the European Union expectedly denounced the Russian move and the US and the EU came up with their respective list of sanctions on Putin’s close aides and his loyalists in Crimea. The efficacy of these sanctions is doubtful as the sword of sanctions is a double-edged weapon that cuts both ways. The West’s economic interest will be equally affected by the war of sanctions. But that is a different story.
Now coming to the Sikkim bit of the story, Sikkim merged with India and became 22nd state of the Indian Union on 16 May, 1975 soon after 97.5 percent Sikkimese voted in a referendum favouring its merger with India.
Friendly Russia acquiesced while China was upset. China, after all, was in no mood to repeat India’s folly of accepting Chinese sovereignty over Tibet a quarter century earlier. Incidentally, Tibet is one of the compelling strategic and diplomatic reasons for China to have extended the kind of solid support to Russia over Crimea it has.
Putin’s telephone call to Manmohan Singh may have put the UPA government in a fix. The UPA government may be in a dilemma whether it should take an “us or them” stand over the West-Russia conflict over Crimea or whether it should leave it to the wisdom of the next government which should be in place by May end.
The UPA government must be finding itself between a rock and a hard place. Supporting Russia would inevitably make India the ‘bad boy’ for the West and it will have its diplomatic repercussions. But not supporting Russia will be a moral dilemma for India as no other power on earth has stood so solidly with India during its several crisis moments for over past four decades as Russia has.
Obviously a conversation between two heads of governments is highly confidential and no one knows what exactly Putin asked from Manmohan Singh and what the Indian PM told the Russian President.
However, an official statement gave some details of this very important conversation as follows:
“President Vladimir Putin telephoned Prime Minister at 7.30 pm today and discussed the evolving situation in Ukraine and the recent referendum in Crimea.
“Prime Minister thanked President Putin for explaining the Russian position with regard to recent developments in Ukraine. He emphasized the consistent position India had on the issues of unity and territorial integrity of countries. Prime Minister expressed his hope that all sides would exercise restraint and work together constructively to find political and diplomatic solutions that protected the legitimate interests of all countries in the region and ensured long term peace and stability in Europe and beyond.
“Prime Minister and President Putin also discussed the close relationship and mutually beneficial partnership between India and Russia and reaffirmed the importance that both countries attached to their special and privileged strategic partnership. Prime Minister also thanked President Putin for his personal leadership in further deepening and strengthening the India-Russia strategic partnership in recent years.”
One sentence in this statement is a give-away of what an Indian reaction on Crimea developments may entail, if at all it comes about. It is this: “Prime Minister expressed his hope that all sides would exercise restraint and work together constructively to find political and diplomatic solutions that protected the legitimate interests of all countries in the region and ensured long term peace and stability in Europe and beyond.”
An Indian statement on Crimea will make sense only when it is unambiguous. It will be a pity if India comes up with a weak statement, only calling upon “all sides to resolve all issues through a constructive dialogue.”
The writer is a FirstPost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.