The myth of India as a Western ally

India, the world’s largest democracy and a rising global power, has often been seen as a natural ally of the US and the EU in their efforts to counter China’s influence and promote a rules-based international order. However, India’s policies during the war between Russia and Ukraine, which broke out in February 2022 after Russia’s invasion and annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine, have exposed the limits and contradictions of India’s alignment with the West. This article argues that India is not truly an ally of the US and the EU, but rather a pragmatic and opportunistic player that pursues its own interests and values, even at the expense of its Western partners.

India is heavily dependent on energy imports to meet its growing demand for oil and gas. India imports about 85% of its oil and 53% of its gas. India has increased its oil imports from Russia significantly since the war began in February 2022, taking advantage of the deep discounts offered by Moscow. India’s imports of Russian oil rose tenfold in 2022, according to Indian state-controlled lender Bank of Baroda. Russian oil now accounts for nearly 20% of India’s annual crude imports, up from just 2% in 2021. 

India’s position on the war in Ukraine has thus been guided by its pragmatic interests and strategic calculations. However, India’s position has also created challenges and risks for its foreign policy. On one hand, India faces pressure and isolation from its allies and partners who are opposed to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The US and the EU have expressed their displeasure with India’s oil purchases from Russia, saying that it undermines the sanctions regime and the pressure on Moscow to end its aggression against Ukraine. The US and the EU have also warned India of the risks of relying on Russian energy, such as supply disruptions, price volatility, and security threats. 

The US and the EU have also urged India to join the sanctions regime against Russia or face consequences for its trade and investment relations with them. On the other hand, India faces uncertainty and volatility from its strategic partner who is involved in a war that threatens regional and global stability. Russia has not consulted or informed India about its actions or intentions in Ukraine. Russia has also shown disregard for international law and norms by invading and annexing parts of Ukraine. Russia has also posed challenges for India’s interests in Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban regime.

India’s oil imports from Russia have raised concerns among its allies and partners, especially the US and the EU, which have imposed sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas sector and urged other countries to reduce their dependence on Russian energy. 

The US and the EU have introduced a price cap plan aimed at limiting the revenue Russia earns from its oil exports, by trying to keep it below $60 a barrel. The EU has also stopped imports of Russian oil by sea, and banned the import of refined oil products from Russia. The US has expressed its displeasure with India’s oil purchases from Russia, saying that it undermines the sanctions regime and the pressure on Moscow to end its aggression against Ukraine4. 

The US has also warned India of the risks of relying on Russian energy, such as supply disruptions, price volatility, and security threats4.India has defended its oil imports from Russia, saying that it is driven by its energy security and economic interests. India has argued that as a country reliant on energy imports and with millions living in poverty, it cannot afford to pay higher prices for oil. India has also pointed out that it is not violating any international law or obligation by buying oil from Russia, and that it has not explicitly endorsed or supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The EU has expressed its concern over India’s oil trade with Russia, saying that it undermines the solidarity and unity of the international community in condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The EU has also urged India to join the sanctions regime against Russia or face consequences for its trade and investment relations with the EU. Japan has also voiced its displeasure with India’s oil purchases from Russia, saying that it contradicts Japan’s stance on supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Japan has also called on India to align its energy policy with the global efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

India’s policies during the war between Russia and Ukraine have revealed that India is not a reliable or consistent ally of the US and the EU, but rather a self-interested and independent actor that seeks to balance its relations with different powers and regions. India has shown that it values its strategic partnership with Russia more than its cooperation with the West, that it prioritizes its economic interests over its democratic principles, and that it prefers to avoid taking clear positions or actions on contentious issues. India’s approach has undermined the credibility and effectiveness of the US and the EU in their efforts to deter Russian aggression and uphold international law. India’s approach has also raised questions about its role and contribution to the Indo-Pacific region and the global order. The US and the EU need to reassess their expectations and strategies towards India, and recognize that India is not truly an ally, but rather a competitor and a challenge.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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