New Delhi/Islamabad- Both India and Pakistan have stressed the importance of de-escalation in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, while carefully avoiding attribution of responsibility for the violence as nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors attempt to walk on different diplomatic cables, according to analysts.

On Sunday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke by telephone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, reiterating Pakistan’s call for a cessation of hostilities.

The language of Pakistan’s statements on the crisis has been similar to that of India at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and in telephone conversations between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian and Ukrainian leaders.

On Saturday, Modi spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, stressing the need to end the violence without attributing responsibility.

“[Modi] reiterated its call for an immediate cessation of violence and a return to dialogue, and expressed India’s readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts,” read a statement from the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. strangers following the call.

Two days earlier, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin using similar language.

“Prime Minister [Modi] reiterated its long-held belief that differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue,” an Indian statement read.

“[Modi] called for an immediate cessation of violence and called for concerted efforts by all parties to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue.

At the UNSC, India abstained in a vote on a resolution that would have “deplored” Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Moscow for talks with President Putin on a major gas pipeline deal and regional issues, including Afghanistan.

The Russian statement on the meeting was brief, making no mention of Ukraine, while Prime Minister Khan’s office took a cautious approach to broaching the subject of the invasion, saying Pakistan ‘regretted’ the situation. current.

“Prime Minister [Khan] emphasized that conflict is in no one’s interest and that developing countries are always the hardest hit economically in the event of conflict,” the Pakistani statement said.

“He underscored Pakistan’s belief that differences should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.”

So why all these apparent ambiguities?

India’s long-standing ties with Russia

Putin greets Modi when they meet in Sochi, Russia, in May 2018 [Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters]

India and Russia have enjoyed warm relations for decades, which analysts say is mainly due to Russian arms exports to the South Asian country as well as other areas of cooperation.

India has also developed much closer ties with the United States in recent years, as evidenced by India’s presence in the US “Quad” Asia-Pacific defense alliance aimed at countering China.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), around 23% of all Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020 went to India, accounting for 49% of all arms imports. Indians during the same period.

In December 2021, India said it had started receiving deliveries of Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, following a visit that month by President Putin to New Delhi.

Analysts say India’s abstention in the UNSC vote could be the result of both large arms imports and India’s more nuanced stance on conflict-related issues involving the United States , Russia and China.

“I see it mainly in terms of India’s longstanding ties to Russia and the fact of our reliance on military supplies and in part we think Russia has genuine concerns that could have be taken into consideration,” said Sanjay Kumar Pandey, who teaches foreign Russian. Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Pandey added that India’s statements, focusing on the need for diplomacy, make it “very difficult to draw a clear meaning from them”.

“India has […] not supported Russia’s actions, Russia’s recognition of breakaway republics [in eastern Ukraine]or Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine,” he said.

“But at the same time, if we say that diplomacy has not had a chance, it can be interpreted mainly against Russia, but also partially against Ukraine and NATO.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said the United States was still in unresolved “consultations” with India over the crisis.

PS Raghavan, India’s former ambassador to Russia, said that when people say that India has not taken a “clear position” on the conflict, they focus on one thing: “India does not condemn not Russia. That’s all they mean when they say that.

Raghavan said it was “not about pleasing both [the US and Russia]”.

“We have very strong relations with Russia, we have very strong relations with the United States. Our relationship with the United States has grown stronger over the past decade, but each is independent. We no longer have a binary in the international system after the Cold War.

The idea of ​​there being a diplomatic tightrope or a balancing act, he said, “is actually a creation of […] the media and part of the university community”.

On the question of Pakistani Prime Minister Khan’s presence in Moscow on the day of the invasion, both analysts suggested that it was more a case of coincidence.

“[PM Khan] did not know that Russia was going to attack [Ukraine] that day,” Raghavan said. “It’s just a coincidence because I don’t think anyone knew Russia was going to attack.”

Realignment of Pakistan’s interests

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Moscow, RussiaRussian President Putin attends a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Khan in Moscow on February 24 [Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters]

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan has faced national criticism from some for visiting Russia on the day of the invasion, sitting alongside Putin for a photo op before a meeting of about three hours between the two leaders.

Pakistan’s ties with Russia have intensified in recent years, after being hostile during the Cold War, when Pakistan was a key regional ally of the United States to counter Russian forces in Afghanistan.

Khan’s visit to Russia was the first by a Pakistani prime minister in more than two decades, although former President Asif Ali Zardari met then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow in 2011.

High on the agenda was the Pakistan Stream pipeline project, a proposed 1,100 km (684 mile) gas pipeline linking the Pakistani port city of Karachi to the central province of Punjab. The project was conceived in 2015 but faced numerous delays until new agreements were drafted in 2021.

The pipeline, which will be built at an estimated cost of $2.5 billion, will be capable of transporting 12.4 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

Analysts say that while the pipeline is unlikely to increase Russian gas exports, it could divert some gas supplies from the Middle East to Pakistan, making Europe more dependent on Russian natural gas.

Pakistan and Russia have also multiplied contacts thanks to the former’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

In December, Pakistani Prime Minister Khan also welcomed President Putin’s comments on how insults to Islam’s prophet Muhammad should be seen as a “violation of religious freedom”.

Analysts say the main lesson to be learned from the talks should be the new prominence Russia appears to have assumed.

“Pakistan has little to do with Russia’s decision to go ahead with a war that has been planned for months,” said Salman Zaidi, director of programs at the Jinnah Institute-based think tank. Islamabad.

“The purpose of the meeting was strategic symbolism for both sides, and certainly stoked concerns in capitals accustomed to Islamabad’s traditional alignment with the West in security cooperation.”

Zaidi said the fact that no major agreement was signed during the visit was secondary.

“The way the meeting was orchestrated by the Russians shows that they view this relationship with new importance,” he said.

Zaidi said regional developments since mid-2021, including the US exit from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover, have “demanded[ed] realignment of countries like Pakistan”.

“Pakistan will remain in the Western camp, but potentially balance its security needs with a long-term partnership with Russia,” he said.

As for Ukraine, given the limited economic and other ties between the two countries – total trade between them in 2020-2021 was $350 million, according to Pakistani central bank data – Zaidi says the stakes for Pakistan are relatively low.

“[Pakistan] does not have a voting position in the UN Security Council nor has it been called upon by Ukraine to demand an end to the violence,” he said.

“Pakistan is not linked to the Ukrainian conflict in any significant way, nor is South Asia, as the statements of the region’s leaders show.”