India plans to avoid condemning Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine as it needs Russian weapons in its standoff with China, and officials in New Delhi are confident the US won't apply much pressure, people familiar with the matter said.
Moscow has been one of India's biggest weapons suppliers since the Cold War, with more than half of India's fighter jets and all of its tanks coming from the country. Russia also backed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hardline policies in the disputed region of Kashmir, which were widely criticized.
Both factors are holding Modi back from publicly censuring Putin along with the US, Europe and other nations, said the people who asked not to be identified because they weren't authorized to speak to the media. India raised eyebrows over the weekend when it joined China and the United Arab Emirates in abstaining from voting on a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the invasion, which was ultimately vetoed by Russia.
India needs Moscow's diplomatic support and weaponry to deal with neighboring China, particularly after the two nations clashed along their Himalayan border. India and China have been in conflict over the past two years, with both sides amassing troops, tanks and artillery guns.
Hardware purchase from US and Russia in last two decades
Modi's government is also confident Washington will look the other way on this issue as India becomes a more important US partner in taking on China in the Asia-Pacific region, the people said. India is part of the so-called Quad group with the US, Japan and Australia that has sought to counter China's influence.
India's External Affairs Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Tuesday that New Delhi's position on Russia was based on "certain very careful considerations" when it came to UN resolutions. "We will consider all of them in their entirety and take decisions in our best interests," he said.
"It's hard to imagine Washington moving away from its determination to expand defense and security ties with India over the past 20 years," said Nilanthi Samaranayake, Director of the Strategy and Policy Analysis Program at CNA, a research organization in the Washington area. "India has a history of pursuing its own path in international affairs, despite external pressure."
Putin visited India in December to shore up ties after Modi's government bought $5 billion in weapons, including Russia's S-400 advanced missile-defense system. While the US banned NATO ally Turkey from its advanced F-35 fighter jet program over a similar purchase, so far Washington has avoided any punishment for India.
Indian policymakers have mostly focused their response to Russia's invasion on evacuating at least 4,000 Indian students stranded in Ukraine, an issue with domestic political ramifications as voting takes place in five state elections.
"The entire government machinery is working round the clock to ensure that all Indian nationals there are safe and secure," Modi's office said in a statement on Monday.
India also needs the help of Russia and Ukraine to bring the students home safely, according to Shringla from the External Affairs Ministry.
"Just trying to get our people in the heat of battle, while it rages, may not be the best option," he told reporters. "We have to make sure that both the sides are sort of in a position where they can offer us a safe passage. We are working to secure that option."
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg, and is published by special syndication arrangement.