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What Does India Want from Russia?

As the Ukraine war continues, India’s quest for self-reliance increasingly entails multidimensional international engagement. Its skillful approach means that the forthcoming 75th anniversary of Indian independence will coincide with the country achieving significant – and advantageous – geopolitical autonomy.

LONDON – If there was a prize for the most quotable comment on international relations so far in 2022, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar would be in the running. Responding to criticism of his country’s neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine war at a security forum in Slovakia in June, Jaishankar said that “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.”

Like most major crises, the war is shedding stark light on our era, and India’s response to it is particularly illuminating. India’s current foreign policy does more than just exemplify how the conflict has intensified deglobalization trends. It also highlights the paradox inherent in the country’s increasing emphasis on “strategic autonomy” as the world fragments into rival power centers: the United States and its alliance system versus China and its major satellite, Russia. The essence of this paradox is that India’s quest for self-reliance – keeping its distance from the principals of Cold War 2.0 and seeking advantage from diverse relationships – entails multidimensional international engagement.

For example, European politicians painfully weaning their countries off imported Russian energy have criticized India for buying more Russian oil – after Western sanctions reduced its price by about a third relative to the world market price. Indian purchases of Russian crude increased to 1.1 million barrels per day (mbpd) by late July and now account for over one-fifth of Indian oil consumption, compared to just 2% last year.