European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used her keynote address at the Raisina Dialogue to hit out against Russia’s aggression on Ukraine and remind the Indian audience that the growing friendship between Russia and China was a danger to world peace. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and India’s top foreign policy officials were seated in the front row listening to her.
She did not directly refer to New Delhi’s refusal to condemn Russia, but spoke at length about India’s democratic credentials and how democracies must stand together at a time when the core values of freedom were under assault in Ukraine. "As vibrant democracies, India and the European Union share fundamental values and common interests. Together, we believe in each country's right to determine its own destiny; we believe in rule of law and fundamental rights; we believe that it's democracy that best delivers for citizens."
Von der Leyen reminded the audience that the international community’s response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine will decide the future of the international system. Europe on its part was bent on punishing President Vladimir Putin for his murderous action against the people of Ukraine.
"In Europe, we see Russia's aggression as a direct threat to our security. We will make sure that unprovoked, unjustified aggression against Ukraine will be a strategic failure. We are doing all we can to help Ukraine fight for its freedom. We imposed effective sanctions," she said.
Like other Western diplomats the European Commission President indirectly warned India not to trust Russia, pointing to Putin’s growing friendship with China’s President Xi Jinping. Unlike American officials, she was much more sophisticated in her argument. But the message to India was similar to what the US and every other visiting western diplomat has said before her- 'Don’t trust Russia.' Knowing well that New Delhi has close defence and security ties with Moscow, the west repeatedly warned India that China, India’s main military threat in the region, is now a close ally of Russia. She referred to the "no-limits friendship’" between Putin and Xi and their joint call for an alternative world order.
"What can we expect from the new international relations that both have called for? It is a defining moment. Our decisions in these days will shape decades to come. Our response to Russia's aggression today will decide the future of both the international system and global economy," she said. It is surprising that western leaders are constantly warning New Delhi about the Russia-China axis as if the Indian leadership are unaware of it. India also understands Russia’s compulsions at a time when the west has placed unprecedented sanctions on it. The Indian leadership will take a call once when the time comes. At the moment that inflection point has not been reached.
She spoke of the importance of an open rule-based security architecture for the Indo-Pacific and without mentioning China directly warned of its aggressive moves. "For the Indo-Pacific region, it is as important as for Europe that borders are respected and that spheres of influence are rejected," she added.
She also warned that what happens in Ukraine will have an impact on the Indo-Pacific region. It already has. "Countries battered by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic must deal now with rising prices for grain, energy and fertilisers as a direct result of Putin's war of choice."
The Ukraine war has helped to unify Europe behind the US as never before since the end of the Cold War. America and its western allies are desperate to break the military and security ties between India and Russia. A slew of American and European leaders and diplomats have approached New Delhi with the same message. India need not rely on Russian defence systems as the US and Europe can provide whatever India needs. New Delhi also knows that the cost of American and European military hardware is much more than what Russia offers. How long New Delhi can resist the combined pressure of the US and Europe remains to be seen.
The European Commission President was the chief guest at the seventh edition of the Raisina Dialogue, a prestigious think-tank event organised by the Observer Research Foundation and supported by the MEA.