The Ukraine Dilemma

Contact Counsellor

The Ukraine Dilemma

  • As diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine continue, the time has come for Delhi to devote greater attention to Central Europe, which is at the heart of the contestation between Russia and the West.

Recognising the role of Central Asia in shaping the geopolitics of Europe

  • Central Europe today has an identity of its own and the political agency to reshape European geopolitics.
  • It is important to remember that Central Europe is no longer just a piece of territory that Russia and the Western powers can divide into “spheres of influence”.
  • A grand bargain between Russia and the West will work only if it is acceptable to Central Europe.

Need for diplomatic balancing on Ukraine by India

  • As war clouds gather over Ukraine, there is much focus on India’s diplomatic balancing act, its unwillingness to publicly caution Russia against invading Ukraine, and above all its reluctance to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.
  • This is not the first time that Russia’s approach to Central Europe has put Delhi in a tight corner.
  • The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, exposed an important tension in Indian diplomacy.
  • In Central Europe, India’s pragmatism in not offending Moscow (an important partner) runs against the utter unacceptability of Putin’s doctrine of “limited sovereignty”, a continuation of the Soviet-era policy of saying that the socialist states must subordinate their sovereignty for the sake of the “collective interests of the socialist bloc”.

Factors shaping India’s stand

  • Tension with China: The prospective Russian invasion of Ukraine comes amidst India’s military tensions with China and Delhi’s continued dependence on Moscow’s military supplies.
  • It also comes at a time when Delhi is trying to build an international coalition against China’s brazen attacks on the territorial sovereignty of its Asian neighbours.
  • For the moment, Delhi is in a safe corner by calling for diplomacy in resolving the Ukraine crisis.
  • But if Russia does invade Ukraine, the pressure on India to rethink its position will mount.
  • Any such review must eventually lead to an independent appreciation of the geopolitics of Central Europe.

Five factors that must shape India’s perspective on the geopolitics of Central Europe

  • No taker for the sphere of influence: Russia’s claim for a broad sphere of influence in the region has no takers in Central Europe.
  • Need for political accommodation: While Russia has legitimate security interests in Central Europe, they can only be realised through political accommodation.
  • Moscow cannot enforce a sphere of influence against the will of its prospective members.
  • NATO as a better option: few Central Europeans buy into the French vision for “European sovereignty” and “strategic autonomy”.
  • They bet that NATO, led by the US, is a better option than a Europe that is independent of Washington.
  • They view with even greater distaste the prospects for the Russo-German condominiums over Central Europe.
  • Resentment against the imposition of political value: While they are eager to be part of the Western institutions, Central Europeans resent any attempt by the US and EU to impose political values that run against their traditional cultures.
  • Subregional institution: Central Europeans are eager to develop sub-regional institutions that can enhance their identity.
  • The Visegrad Four — Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia — is one of them.
  • The so-called “Three Seas Initiative” brings together 12 European states running in a vertical axis from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic and Black Sea in the south.


  • Delhi can’t forever view this critical region through the prism of Russia’s conflict with the West. It must come to terms with its growing strategic significance.