Navigating neutrality . . .
New Delhi and Islamabad have struck similar chords in their official statements on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urging de-escalation but avoiding assigning blame for the violence. The two governments are squeezed between potentially irreconcilable positions. Both have recently staked a lot on their relationship with Moscow, seeking energy security, military hardware, and diplomatic leverage against rivals (including each other). They also know that being too muted in their response to Russia’s actions could damage their standing with the U.S. and other Western countries, with whom they also need strong relations.
India: Balancing big powers . . .
New Delhi reinforced its long-standing relationship with Russia in December when President Vladimir Putin visited India. The meeting resulted in India acquiring the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system, a key asset in deterring attacks from Pakistan and China. In fact, half of India’s arms imports come from Russia. But there are tensions at the heart of this relationship: Russia’s close relationship with China and India’s membership in the Quad, a U.S.-aligned grouping Russia strongly opposes. India’s immediate concern vis-à-vis Ukraine, however, is not resolving these contradictions, but evacuating the thousands of Indian students stranded in Ukraine, many having reported harassment and discrimination at border checkpoints. The Indian foreign ministry said today that one student was killed in an airstrike.
Pakistan: Promising pipelines . . .
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who coincidentally met with President Putin in Moscow on Thursday as the Ukraine invasion was unfolding, is pursuing two goals with Russia. One is Moscow’s assistance in stabilizing Afghanistan. Another is the C$3.17-billion Russian natural gas pipeline that would run from Karachi to Pakistan’s Punjab region. Interestingly, the pipeline would not deliver Russian gas to energy-hungry Pakistan but would, in theory, draw Qatari gas exports away from Europe to nearby Pakistan, thereby making Europe more dependent on Russian-supplied gas. The status of both goals now seems uncertain. On Monday, Khan announced he would temporarily slash the cost of fuel and electricity to offset the spike in energy prices that is expected to result from the Russia-Ukraine crisis. His government had reduced fuel subsidies as part of the reforms required for an IMF bailout package, which Pakistan requested to help stabilize its economy. Such local-level impacts show the crisis is already being felt close to home.