WASHINGTON -- While most of the world condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in, there is one exception: India.
The U.S. is leading the coalition against China's expansionism to help them win the world's largest democracy.
India has had long-standing ties with Russia. The war in Ukraine has forced India, the second-most populous nation in the world, to make a choice between Washington and Moscow. Instead, it ended up in the small group of countries that have not formalized their denunciation.
"We are in a difficult position because we have very powerful stakes on both side," Arun Singh, an ex-Indian ambassador to the United States, told Indian media outlet MoJo Story. India decided to abstain because of the difficult situation.
141 countries voted Wednesday for a resolution censuring Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Four other countries voted against it, while 35 abstained, including India and its two largest geopolitical rivals Pakistan and China.
Officials in Washington were critical of the abstention, as both American presidents have sought closer relations with New Delhi for the past two decades.
"I am very disappointed... India is a world power. "You can't be a fence-sitter," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), co-chair of Senate India Caucus. While I am aware that India has a long history with non-alignment, India is also proud to be the largest democracy in the world. India prides itself on having government that are based on morals and values.
The United States is the largest trading partner and source of foreign investments. India has the highest number of English-speaking countries on the planet. The U.S. is also a major destination for Indian students and expats .
However, India has depended on Moscow for its military hardware and international support for decades. This history continues to guide India's foreign policy today as some 60% of its military stock is Russian.
For example, even though India was not officially aligned during the Cold War (the Soviet Union at the time supported India in the 1971 war against Pakistan which led to the creation Bangladesh), Washington backed Pakistan and it continues to do so today.
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), the other co-chair for the Senate India Caucus said he was disappointed by India's refusal to attend. He explained that Warner and he had communicated this to Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India's ambassador in the U.S. He said that he believed their dependence on Russia for their security was a major reason.
According to an Indian official, Russia is needed to help India evacuate around 20,000 citizens. Many of these were students who were in Ukraine when the conflict began.
India raised the issue directly with Russia, the official stated, pointing out Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to President Vladimir Putin, in which Modi stressed the need for cease-fire and a return to diplomacy.
Indian media reported that the Indian air force has both Russian- and U.S-made military transport aircrafts. However, it chose to use a Russian Ilyushin-76 over an American C-17 to rescue Indian citizens who fled Ukraine to Russia.
According to a 2017 Pew survey, Indians have similar views of Russia and the U.S.
Akhil Bery, director of South Asia Initiatives, Asia Society Policy Institute, stated that it is significant that India's public statements are "becoming more critical of Russia" over the past few days.
He stated in an email that India doesn't support Russia's actions, but it can't cut all ties with Russia because Russia may use this opportunity to strengthen ties with India and its adversaries. India is also concerned about Russia-China ties. Although Russia is still dominant in India's military, India has been diversifying its forces over the past few years."
New Delhi views Moscow as an important ally in countering China. India is a powerful neighbour and has been involved in several border skirmishes within the disputed Kashmir region. One of these was in 2020, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
After China had selected one of those soldiers in the deadly clash as a torch bearer, India joined the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott at Beijing Winter Olympics.
While India has started to import military equipment from the West, and is building its defense industry, it still relies on Russia for its military hardware. It cannot afford disruption when it faces down China or Pakistan at its borders.
Washington is pushing New Delhi to be more aggressive against Moscow behind the scenes. Washington noted that even Nepal (a small country between India and China) voted for the new resolution, noting that it abstained in 2014 from a U.N. Resolution condemning Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
"The president and other top officials from the State Department have been tirelessly conducting very serious high level dialogue with our Indian counterparts for months now, culminating this week," Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state, South and Central Asia, stated at a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
India has been facing sanctions from the United States for years over its purchase of a high-tech Russian defense system that it wants to deploy at its border with Pakistan. While most people assumed Washington would lift those sanctions, Lu stated clearly that a decision has yet to be made.
Lisa Curtis was the White House's former senior director for South and Central Asia. She said that India's decision not to join the conflict was a temporary calculation.
Curtis is the Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program, the Center for a New American Security. "India is caught up in a contradiction," Curtis said. "If India believes that by supporting Russia now it will somehow gain Russian support when China puts pressure on its borders, I think New Delhi may be mistaken."