Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mistakes on Crimea

Russia yesterday effectively annexed the now former Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in the Black Sea, with a mere formality of ratification by the Duma left. The move marks the first expansion of Russia since the Soviet Days and, in a way, turns the clock back, since it was Khrushchev who transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1960.

While the West - Germany and the US in particular - play the revolving door of sanctions, Russia President Putin, in his joint address, thanked India and China for their support, active or passive. In China's case, it abstained from a vote in the UNSC (although it should really have vetoed it if not for matters discussed shortly); for India, it was its (usual) silence on the issue, at best a word from the MEA that Russia has legitimate concerns. However, for India, even slight support to Russia here is akin to suicide and even for China, it is a misstep.

First, China. It is no secret that China faces an insurgency in Xinjiang as well as strong separatist sentiments in Tibet. And, like ever country, China is not willing to accept any loss in territory. By not unequivocally condemning Russia for this act of annexation of Crimea, it is implicitly fanning sub-nationalism and accepting that a referendum at a local level can be the basis of secession. While International law is silent on this issue, any indication that such a route is trouble for China.

For India, which cannot resort to the undemocratic means that China can, and which does not have a voice at the UNSC, the challenges are even greater. A similar unilateral referendum in Kashmir would certainly bring nuclear war to South Asia, as Pakistan moves to militarily enforce the referendum and India moves to defend its territory. Of course, it is also important not to damage the strategic partnership with Russia, but on the issue of territorial integrity hard decisions need to be taken. If India goes further and recognized this secession, which is illegal by Ukrainian law, then it would set a dangerous precedent for Kashmiri separatists to use.

As always, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government has fumbled up on foreign policy and done yet more harm on the country. It's just as good that the general elections are nearly upon us: a few more months of this would have been unbearable. 

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