February 23, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9785

Reactions In Indian And Pakistani Newspapers About Russia's Escalation Of The Ukrainian Crisis And The Stakes For South Asian Countries

February 23, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9785

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's latest moves to escalate the crisis in Ukraine and potentially invade the country, newspapers in India and Pakistan have published editorials and articles commenting on the stakes involved for the two South Asian countries. India, which is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, has refrained from stating a clear-cut position on Ukraine, while Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Moscow on February 23-24, 2022, to discuss bilateral ties with Putin.

India has traditionally been an ally of Russia since the years following World War II, but it has been shifting gears recently toward the United States and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad, an emerging NATO-like counterweight to China that comprises the United States, India, Japan, and Australia. However, recently, India revised its speedy lurch toward the U.S. and decided to re-embrace Russia by buying Russia's S-400 air defence missile systems, notwithstanding the U.S. warning not to do so.

Pakistan too has been a pro-U.S. ally for most of the post-War years and though its efforts to win Russian trust have never fully materialized, Russia has maintained some military engagement with Pakistan. Imran Khan's visit to Moscow gained new significance after the 2021 U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has made room for Pakistani geopolitics, given its flourishing ties with China.

Following are excerpts from an editorial in The Times of India daily and an article by noted Pakistani writer Zahid Hussain in Dawn newspaper, looking at the Indian and Pakistani perspectives of the Ukrainian crisis.

"Escalation Doesn't Help The Rest Of The World As Oil Prices Are Already Touching $100, And Most Major Economies, India Included, Are Facing High Inflation"

Following are excerpts from The Times of India editorial:[1]

"[W]ith his latest move and by ordering Russian troops into Donbass for 'peace-keeping,' Putin has thrown down another gauntlet. The U.S. and EU have responded with targeted sanctions, focusing on the two areas of Ukraine and Russian officials. Germany has halted the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would have doubled Russian gas exports to Berlin.

"But indications are that the West may be willing to live with Russia's de facto annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk. After all, the Ukrainian government had itself declared the two areas as occupied. And targeted sanctions would serve as a face-saver for NATO while not bludgeoning the Russian economy altogether. This is a delicate balance. What if Putin is emboldened to further salami-slice? But, even then, holding off now on further actions and sanctions is in everyone's interest.

"A return to a Cold-War-like situation does not help Europe, as it will disrupt energy supplies and economic activity. If the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is junked altogether, the EU would need to find alternative sources to meet its energy needs. Escalation does not help the rest of the world as oil prices are already touching $100, and most major economies, India included, are facing high inflation and national economies are just about recovering from the pandemic."

"Should Russia Escalate Things Further, It Would Test India's Sacrosanct Position On Championing National Territorial Integrity"

"Obviously, reducing the trust deficit between the U.S.-led West and Russia is the only way to ensure Moscow does not manufacture crises in the future to further its strategic goals. But the two sides remain too far apart today. The U.S. is unlikely to accept Russia's not entirely invalid point that NATO expansion threatens its security.

"For India, with historical ties with Russia and growing ties with the U.S. and facing a huge threat from China, it is a tough spot to be in. Hitherto New Delhi has rightly taken a neutral approach to the Ukraine crisis.

"But should Russia escalate things further, it would test India's sacrosanct position on championing national territorial integrity. Can you stay neutral on Russia going further into Ukraine if you want the world to be with you on China's expansionism? New Delhi will be hoping hard that there's no escalation."

"[Russia And Pakistan] Have Regularly Conducted Joint Military Exercises Since 2016 And In 2018, When [Pakistan] Army Chief Gen. Bajwa Visited Russia, They Formed A Joint Military Commission"

Following are excerpts from Zahid Hussain's article:[2]

"The latest development there [in Russia] presents a serious diplomatic predicament for the prime minister [Imran Khan] as Pakistan would not like to be perceived as siding with any one party during a possible conflict. A Russian invasion of Ukraine could create a very challenging situation for our foreign policy officials. It would require a delicate balancing act on Pakistan's part, given its support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"The darkening war clouds in the region will cast a long shadow over the prime minister's two-day stay in Moscow. Heightening tensions between Russia and the U.S. in the Ukraine stand-off has further complicated the situation. It will be the first trip to Moscow of a Pakistani leader in more than two decades and, as such, it highlights the warming of relations between the two nations in times of fast-changing geopolitics. The timing of the visit is of great importance in view of the emerging political realignment in the region.

"Relations between Moscow and Islamabad have improved over the last few years and there has been increasing bilateral interaction at the senior official level. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad last April [2021] after nearly nine years. Besides growth in trade and economic relations there has been a significant increase in security cooperation between the two countries. For instance, they have regularly conducted joint military exercises since 2016 and in 2018, when [Pakistan] army chief Gen. Bajwa visited Russia, they formed a joint military commission."

"Pakistan May Emphasize A Position Of Neutrality But Global Developments Of Late... Have Brought It Closer To The Beijing-Moscow Axis"

"To a large extent, these warmer ties have also been the result of Pakistan's strained relations with the U.S. that compelled the former country to expand its foreign policy options. This factor has led to both, deeper strategic relations with China and improvement in ties with Russia. Also, the growing U.S. policy of confrontation with Beijing and Moscow has shaped regional realignments.

"Pakistan may emphasize a position of neutrality but global developments of late, which have also included the Afghan situation after the departure of U.S. troops, have brought it closer to the Beijing-Moscow axis. Islamabad and Moscow have similar views on Afghanistan among other regional issues.

"Under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, both capitals have pledged to tackle together the growing threats that emanate from the militant Islamic State in the region. It is likely that the discussions between the two leaders will focus on economic cooperation and developments in the region after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan..."

"Pakistan has its own place in th echanging geopolitical dynamics but caution is needed if the country is to safeguard its interests. Improving relations with Moscow is to be welcomed but it is also crucial that it maintains a balance in foreign ties so that it does not end up favoring one side over the other."


[1] (India), February 22, 2022. The original English of the write-ups has bene lightly edited for clarity and standardization.

[2] (Pakistan), February 23, 2022.

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