Why US, Russia Want India On Its Side

[Ukrainians hold weapons outside the regional administration building in central Kharkiv]

Rediff News Interview, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/why-us-russia-want-india-on-its-side/20220307.htm, published March7, 2022: Bharat Karnad explains some of the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The world order seems to be changing dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
China seems to have emerged as the senior partner of Russia and both India and China seem to be on the same page vis a vis the Russian invasion.

Yes, the Volodymyr Zelenskyy regime is under siege, and has upset Putin’s plans for a quick operation by its refusal to be intimidated by Russian military power.

And the ‘correlation of forces’ has changed some, considering that NATO will now not be able to use the Ukrainian frontage on the Black Sea to attack Russia from the south.

China, for its part, is observing how the situation is developing, how Washington, in particular, is reacting and especially the step-up actions of the US and NATO.

These, sequentially, have progressed from initial verbal protests, airlift of a large volume of arms and ammo for tactical battle (by some press accounts totalling some $1.5 billion in the last three weeks or so), firming up of the NATO force posture, closing off of NATO air space to Russian aircraft, to announcing a slate of up-rampable economic and trade sanctions.

Beijing will know what to expect should it care to do an Ukraine in Taiwan in the future.

President Xi Jinping will, however, be reassured by the reluctance of the US to deploy its troops directly to fight the Russian forces in Ukraine.

But there are two changes of consequence in the pattern of big power conduct in international affairs.

The US trans-shipment of small value military equipment — the proverbial straw thrown to a drowning Ukraine, has only confirmed to Asian countries their apprehensions of the US as a fickle ally and unreliable security partner.

Equally, President Vladimir Putin has shown his determination to reclaim for Russia, at whatever cost, its Cold War-era buffer zone and sphere of influence.

Is this the beginning of another Cold War with China and Russia pitted together on one side and the US on the other? Can the US be a match against these two powerful nations?

Cold War 2.0, perhaps. Except it is now US versus China as the principals, and predates the Ukraine crisis.

If the US-NATO tandem are more advantageously placed economically and diplomatically, the Russia-China nexus is weightier in terms of will power.

India seems to be caught in between with both the US and Russia wanting our support. We have not condemned Russia outright because we need their support to provide us with military hardware as also repairs, etc.

Actually neither the US nor Russia really expected India to side with one or the other side on the Ukraine issue.

It is just that the Vladimir Putin government had expected, and was politically prepared for and reconciled to India’s neutral positioning far better than the Joe Biden Administration, which had hoped to convince New Delhi to join like-minded countries unitedly to pressure Russia.

[Ukrainian soldiers stop on the road on March 5, 2022 in Sytniaky, Ukraine]

But India also needs military equipment, etc from US and other QUAD nations. How will they achieve this balancing act?

Right now, the arms supply relationship is hugely skewed in favour of Russia — some 70+% of hardware used by the Indian armed services are of Russian origin.

So there’s no question of achieving a balance anytime soon.

However, it is also this level of dependence on Russia that makes Moscow accept India going in for the occasional major weapons buys from the US and the West.

Such as the Rafale combat aircraft from France, M-777 howitzer and the versatile C-130J and C-17 transport planes from the US.

If US sees Russia in the days to come as being its main adversary, it may then concede China’s domination in Asia. This could be a nightmarish scenario for us with India finding itself in a situation where it will have to single handedly face military action from both China and Pakistan.
Do we have the military capability of being able to cope with this double whammy?

In the circumstances you describe, the US and the West desperately need India to strategically and militarily stretch China westwards, even as the US and AUKUS plus Japanese forces try and distend the disposition of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) air, land and naval forces eastwards in the South China sea, East Sea, and the Indo-Pacific generally.

There is no ‘double whammy’! Pakistan is too puny a State to matter to anyone or be meaningfully useful to any side, especially because Islamabad’s concern with keeping its channels open to Washington will always over-ride its desire to get closer to China.

[A view of an area near the regional administration building in central Kharkiv, March 1, 2022]

What kind of maneuverability will India have given our present economic and political situation?

India enjoys the maneuverability of a coming big power.

With its resources, and especially potentially large purchases of high value capital technology goods and promise of access to its vast market, New Delhi can economically benefit one or the other side and, should it decide to use its many military assets, including its central location in the Indian Ocean basin, it can decisively tilt the local, tactical and strategic balance.

It is this possibility that has persuaded Moscow to humour India and stayed Washington from getting punitive about India’s neutrality on the Ukraine issue.

Emboldened by the current situation in Europe, is there a possibility of China attacking Taiwan in the near future as is being predicted by some analysts.

It depends on how Beijing assesses the US and West European response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the lessons it has learned.

Unlike Ukraine that’s caught between and betwixt formal membership in NATO, the US is committed — it says, to maintaining the status quo and doing everything possible to help Taiwan defend itself.

Taiwan, moreover, is militarily a porcupine that can seriously hurt China should it try to swallow this island-State.


Possibly also of interest to readers of this Blog:

  1. “India’s Foremost Strategist Decodes Russia Ukraine Conflict | Bharat Karnad | Exclusive Interview”, on the (UK-based) podcast forum — ‘Prode’, uploaded to the net March 7, 2022 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsOUsmyz5FY
  2. The 12th BG Deshmukh Annual Endowment Lecture (virtual) of the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, on “India’s Geopolitics: What should be done to strengthen it” delivered on Wednesday March 2, 2022, the event chaired, and introductory and conclusionary remarks, by the former NSA and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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21 Responses to Why US, Russia Want India On Its Side

  1. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Thanks Dr Karnad for another wonderful presentation of the geopolitical picture in the World. How much do you think our enormous military presence in Kashmir is going to reduce our high-tech arms purchases from the West ?

  2. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dear Dr Karnad, I do not believe China is going to swallow Taiwan in any dramatic way. We need to remember about 36 percent (and rapidly growing) of the Taiwanese economy consists of exporting electronic chips to the mainland. In this way Taiwan is already a part of the mainland. According to David P Goldman, Taiwanese are secretly helping the Chinese to build a world class semi-conductor industry at the mainland. What are your thoughts about this particular aspect of the Chinese Taiwan relationship.

  3. Ayush says:

    If ukraine had 60-70 harop loitering munitions and a lot of hyper sophisticated PGMs like spice 1000/2000 this war would be over in 24 hours.Russian air defenses are blind to harop drones as proved in ngorno-karabakh war.the stealthy harop drones can easily bypass russian short range SAM And lousy EW equipment and take out the two regiments of overhyped s-400 regiments and iskander launchers in belarus.After this ukrainian migs loaded with PGMSs will carpet bomb that 40 mile long convoy north of kiev turning it into putin’s own proverbial “highway of death”.This spectacular humiliation and horrendous loss of life will force him into face saving ceasefire.

  4. Gram Massla says:

    India exists due to Russian arms and veto. It is universal truism that America is a feckless partner unless it pertains to the state of Israel. And since India is not, as yet, technologically capable of making the appropriate weapon to ensure her survival she will continue to depend on others, especially Russia. Morality will forever kowtow to exigency. Yet, somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that the rights of Russians cannot supersede the rights of Ukrainians ; Russia must employ means other than killing to persuade the Ukrainians to get it’s points across. But since when has such considerations affect the conduct of human affairs? Modi has done the right thing by not antagonizing Russia. Trade with America may be critical but Russian arms and veto ensure India endures. First a nation has to survive only then it can prosper.

  5. Amit says:


    I hope the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis is what you mention in the Prode YouTube video. I think most Indians would be hoping for that outcome. Also, we hope the economic sanctions don’t lead to a wider conflict, but US cold warriors seem to be displaying the same kind of unipolar zeal as during the neocon days of Bush Junior. Except they want the Europeans to do the fighting. The faster they realise it’s futile the better. Otherwise the current NATO unity may prove short lived.

    In the video you mention Russia has access to their $630B reserves. Most economic analyses I have seen indicate that $350-$400B of that is frozen due to central bank sanctions and the ~$100B in gold reserves that Russia has is illiquid and not easy to convert. What information would you have to indicate otherwise?

    • Amit@ — I don’t recall putting a number to Russia’s hard currency reserves, I merely said it is in “the billions”. Have seen a lot of figures — don’t know which one to take as authoritative. In any case, all this will hasten Russia’s entry into a system of the Chinese yuan as reserve currency. As regards the solution, the one mentioned in the Prode podcast and featured in my my first post (Feb 23) and the subsequent one on March 6, on the Ukraine crisis, is apparently what Zelensky has reconciled to. See his March 8 statement.

      • Ayush says:

        Dr karnad, in my opinion we must scrap the s-400 deal now.It’s simply not worth the price tag.Russian weapons don’t work in war as proved again in Ukraine.Besides,china knows it A-Z including its source codes.We need to put a permanent full stop to this decades old arms sales-appeasement policy.At LAC,IAF can easily destroy PLAAF’s two s-400 regiments stationed at ngari-gargunsa and nyingchi airbases,respectively with Harop drones and that too without breaking a sweat.We have real time access to US Mil satellites as per BECA Mou. And we also have state of the art indigenous ELINT gathering satellites (EMISAT) of our own.Only US,China and India have them.It’s due the lack of these very satellites that Russia has been unable to locate superbly camouflaged Ukrainian C3 nodes.We will know exactly where Chinese SAM’s are at LAC and will easily take them out in SEAD ops.Rafale should be able to easily jam and destroy indigenous Chinese SAM’s while harop drones will take care of overhyped s-400’s.No need to destroy whole system just take out the radar.After that hundreds of IAF attack jets will swamp the PLA.Their biggest weakness is having too few and too high altitude airbases.Their bases will not be able to support combat ops in any practical conflict.Their tactical SRBM’s will easy targets for IAF.India can easily call their bluff.But luckily,Xi has a lot of assets in CSC.

      • Amit says:

        Got it – Feb 23 was before the war. Yeah, before the war began no one thought they would sanction the Russian reserves so quickly. I got my numbers from an Atlantic Council economists discussion. There is also a a WSJ article on this.

        I think the West may have gone too far as this will surely make a shift away from the dollar. China is sitting on over $1T of dollar reserves. It will definitely diversify its risk. It’s possible that India too may participate in the non dollar trade with all these sanctions. But the cold warriors in the US are behaving as if there will be no response from Russia. It’s put Putin in a corner and no one behaves well when they are in a corner, especially not autocrats.

        The US administration is behaving as if it’s not culpable in all this, but at least here are a few dissenting voices now. Also, Tunku Varadarajan wrote an article in the WSJ recently which says that the US signed a strategic partnership deal with Ukraine on Nov 10 2021 which assured them that they would get into ‘European and Euro-Atlantic’ institutions. This was apparently the last straw for Putin. According to the person who was interviewed in this article the US made some big diplomatic blunders in 2021. Let’s hope a negotiated solution emerges soon.

      • manofsan says:

        We must not scrap the S-400 deal, as it’s vital to our national defense, against both China and Pakistan. If we bow to the US on this, then they’ll feel free to threaten sanctions against us at any time over anything, since they know we’ll quickly bend the knee.

    • Ayush says:

      BIDEN has almost made it clear that he is not going to accept anything less than regime change in Moscow.If the war prolongs in Ukraine,the massive human losses coupled up with mind blowing sanctions will affect regime change in coming months.They will try their level best to sabotage any attempt at ceasefire.

      • manofsan says:

        Ayush@ — that’s an amateurish analysis. Biden has already said he won’t go to war over Ukraine, which isn’t even a NATO member. Biden has no power to change the govt in Moscow, just as Putin never had any ability to interfere in US elections (contrary to US political myth-making. Yes, the West has put sanctions on Russia, but we can see that Europeans aren’t going along with abandoning Russian gas & oil, contrary to their initial posturing. Putin knows that they’re very vulnerable in that regard.

  6. Amit says:


    US Lawmakers just reached a deal to provide $13.6B in aid to Ukraine. It’s more than the $10B the Biden admin requested. It includes military, humanitarian and economic aid. While humanitarian and economic aid is laudable, military aid is going to prolong the conflict and defeats the purpose of the other two.

    To me all this signifies the end of even bipolar order. India will not reduce its military ties with Russia whatever the West might say. It is after all providing India with top military technologies, which could take 10-15 years to deliver (like SSNs, hypersonics, etc.). Indian self sufficiency will take at least 20 years. And the West rarely parts with top technologies. So there is no choice for India.

    Like you mention, the US has no choice but to partner with India in the Indo-Pac. And India can also play it’s economic cards to mitigate the disruptions due to the sanctions regime along with China perhaps. So really, India can be a game changer in all this. But there is also talk of Quad economic cooperation. These are contradictory forces. So let’s see how it develops.

    The US needs to realise that even though it is still the sole true superpower, it really needs to play its cards right, or risk further loss of global status and power. It really needs to show India it’s a true partner if it even hopes to bring India along its side. But the cold warrior attitude in policy circles does not give me much confidence that this will happen. The US is having a hard time digesting that large chunks of humanity differ in their views on what constitutes acceptable international behaviour. It will likely rue the mistakes it is making in handling the Ukraine crisis.

  7. Sankar says:

    Excellent interview, especially the observation:
    “Actually neither the US nor Russia really expected India to side with one or the other side on the Ukraine issue. …. It is just that the Vladimir Putin government had expected, and was politically prepared for and reconciled to India’s neutral positioning far better than the Joe Biden Administration …” !!!

  8. Amit says:

    Another great article by Emma Ashford and Prof. Shifrinson in Foreign Affairs today. Clear arguments for de-escalation, reversal of sanctions in return for ceasefire, and articulation of the risks of escalation due to an insecurity spiral. No mention of return of captured cities, but doubtful Russia will agree to this. NATO should accept its unity and increased defence spending as a plus and an isolation of Russia in Europe to be its off ramp gains, in return for Ukrainian neutrality and non ascension into NATO. Fueling insurgency in Ukraine will be a lost cause and risk escalation.

  9. Deepak says:

    Sir,we abstained from UN vote on Russian invasion of Ukraine.So that makes our position slightly tilted to Russian side even though we maintain neutrality.But Russian invasion of Ukraine followed by heavy sanctions by west will push Russia more towards China which is not good for India.Even US is not happy with our stand.So ultimately this Russian invasion has negative effect on India.

  10. Amit says:


    Since you belong to the realist school of international affairs, I wanted to share this excellent assessment from another Realist.. John Mearsheimer… for the viewing pleasure of this community…

  11. Amit says:


    I am now seeing more policy heavyweights like Prof. Mearsheimer weigh in with their views on how the US has been culpable in the Ukraine war. With the rapidly implemented sanctions and the unpredictable impacts on global economy I also think the US led west went too far on economic sanctions. With US congressional elections down the road this year, I Therefore think the US will push for a negotiated settlement soon.

    In the meanwhile, India while maintaining good relations with the US and Russia, should take advantages of any opportunities that open up to further its strategic interests. The Saudis and the Emiratis are doing just that.

  12. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dear Dr Karnad, what are your thoughts Dr Karnad on yesterday’s “accidental” Brahmos missile firing into Pakistan ? Does it paint India in a rogue state?

      • Debanjan Banerjee says:

        Dear Dr Karnad, even a country like North Korea does not have any history of misfiring of strategic assets such as missiles and that too against a fellow nuclear neighbor. I believe this is the most important incident when it comes to the security of this region. RSS controls the minds of the armed forces and it is possible to have crazies amongst our millitary elite. Remember you yourself advised India to deploy and use nukes in a conflict situation. I am afraid we will be treated like nuclear pariahs that we have become now. How can we be trusted with nuclear weapons now?

  13. vivek says:

    any comment about brahmos missile miss fired?
    looks like brahmos tech landed to pak hand by some currupt official


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