Can India mediate the conflict between Russia and the West?

Coming off what has been considered a successful G20 summit, India is building on its position as a neutral partner to countries with competing interests

PM Modi with US President Joe Biden (Photo: DW)
PM Modi with US President Joe Biden (Photo: DW)


At the G20 summit in New Delhi last week, India persuaded the US and Europe to soften wording of the joint communique on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so that the summit could provide consensus on addressing the concerns of poorer countries, including global debt, food security and climate financing.

Without a dissenting note, the world's 20 biggest economies formally adopted a joint declaration.

The language used in the Delhi document was markedly softer on Russia than that used in the Bali declaration from last year's G20, which "deplored in the strongest terms" Moscow's war of aggression against Ukraine.

After this year's G20 summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed satisfaction "we were able to prevent the West's attempts to 'Ukrainize' the summit agenda."

India mediating between Russia and the West?

Foreign policy experts and diplomats have said the summit in New Delhi bolstered India's image as a growing diplomatic and economic force.

Additionally, the summit was indicative of India's ability to balance its historically stable partnership with Russia, while nurturing its growing relationship with Western countries.

"More than just balancing key relationships, what India is attempting in geopolitics is to bridge divides. This applies both to the east-west divide and to the north-south one," Ajay Bisaria, a former Indian diplomat, told DW.

"Over the course of the Ukraine war, India has been in conversation with both Putin and Zelenskyy, and at the same time, Prime Minister Modi was also speaking regularly with western leaders like Biden and Macron. Often, the parties would use India to get messages across to the other side," said Bisaria.

The former diplomat added that India could be a venue for eventual peace talks in the Ukraine war.

"There has been little appetite for peace talks, but I am sure when the belligerents get on the table, India will offer its services and diplomacy to help mediate or coordinate the endgame," he said.

Former Indian ambassador to France Mohan Kumar told DW that Russia would be making a huge mistake if its leaders believe that countries in the Global South are buying their line on the war in Ukraine, as many want the conflict to end soon.

"The New Delhi G20 summit has given a lifeline to Russia and it would be suicidal on its part not to take it and make a difference to world peace. Putin owes Modi one, and it may be worthwhile for India to consider cashing it at an appropriate time in the future," Kumar said.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, India was in a diplomatic dilemma with key strategic partners ranged on both sides.

India has repeatedly stressed that it views its relationship with Russia and the US independently of each other and will not let either of them dictate its foreign policy.

Sujan Chinoy, Director General of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies, told DW that the West and Russia "both perhaps see merit in balancing their own wider geostrategic interests through a credible country like India, which represents the voice of the Global South."

Bringing the world to the Global South?

India's initiatives during its G20 presidency included adding countries of the Global South to the summit conversation, while inviting the African Union to the G20.

"If the Delhi summit had been allowed to collapse on account of lack of consensus on Ukraine, the G20 as a forum could have suffered from irreversible damage at the expense of groups like the BRICS (a group of the world economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), which had expanded," said Kumar

India playing 'a role of bridging a fractured world'

Analysts say India is trying to position itself against growing Chinese influence by building ties both with the Global South and Western countries.

"India's principal contradiction today is with China. Russia is a legacy problem that needs to be managed. India's balancing act is about creating a new Asian security order. Russia is of little help for India in that regard," C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at Asia Society Policy Institute, told DW.

The G20 forum also weakened China's claim of representing the Global South, especially in the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) that rivals China's Belt and Road Initiative.

"For India, the West is the most important trading partner, the dominant source of capital and technology, and the major destination for the Indian diaspora. Cooperation with the G7 is also critical for India to effectively deal with the increasing challenges from China," added Mohan.

Gurjit Singh, a former Indian ambassador to Germany, told DW that India is playing "a role of bridging a fractured world."

"The lead India has taken to be lead interlocutor between the Global South and G7 is visible. What is important to note is the ability to connect the West to Russia is there and used quietly, not in public," Singh said.

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Published: 14 Sep 2023, 8:24 PM