Home Business Fifth Column by Tavleen Singh: On Ukraine, speak up India

Fifth Column by Tavleen Singh: On Ukraine, speak up India


After hearing Putin’s outrageous reasons for invading Ukraine, and his threats of nuclear war, questions are being asked by serious people everywhere about his sanity.

There are some things that must be said plainly. So, at the outset, I admit that I am ashamed that India continues to sit on the fence over Vladimir Putin’s insane invasion of Ukraine. The reasons given by government spokesmen and the BJP’s two-bit trolls are that we must be cautious until we get our students home. And, that it is not in India’s ‘national interest’ to irritate our forever friend Russia. Has our silence helped our students come home? If it had, Putin would have allowed those stranded on Russia’s borders to find safe passage. All that our ambiguity has achieved is to make India look like a country that has lost its moral compass. And is unclear about its national interest.

After hearing Putin’s outrageous reasons for invading Ukraine, and his threats of nuclear war, questions are being asked by serious people everywhere about his sanity. Not in India. Here seasoned diplomats and ‘experts’ on geopolitics ask no such questions and continue treating him as our forever best friend. A rare exception has been conflict analyst, Radha Kumar, who pointed out that since Putin rose to power, Russia has not been a reliable friend. “Russia is not a reliable arms provider,” she wrote in an article in The Wire, “it has not been one since Putin came to power. Arms supplies are frequently long-delayed, and Putin has used the delays to up the prices, sometimes even double them. ” As someone who has little knowledge about our arms purchases, what puzzles me is why we continue to be so dependent on Russia when there is much more sophisticated military equipment available from countries that are not unreliable autocracies.

My reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is based on humanity and not geopolitical expertise, and I have been horrified all week by images of modern cities being reduced to rubble by Russian bombs. On the day of this column’s deadline, I found horror turn to terror as I watched the blitzkrieg on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Zaporoizhzhia is now in the hands of Russian troops. May it remain safe and undamaged.

How is it possible for India not to take sides in what could be the start of a new cold war? On one side of this war are western democracies, and as the world’s largest democracy, that is where we should stand. Instead, we find ourselves on a precarious fence that could see us topple onto the side that is led by a brutal, cold-blooded tyrant who clearly has no respect for the laws that govern international relations. Is India so weak that it can not stand up against a man who will go down in history in the same basket as Stalin and Hitler? Is this really in India’s ‘national interest’? And, if it is, we have to ask how this is so.

Putin’s war has made thousands of Russians take to the streets in protest. They risk being arrested and locked up for years after being subjected to the farcical show trials that Alexei Navalny faced. And here we are being told by our own ‘experts’ in diplomacy and geopolitics that we must continue to remain silent because this is the ‘prudent’ course. This word was used by a ‘seasoned’ diplomat with whom I shared a panel discussion last week. When I took the opposite view, he referred in sneery tones to how his understanding of foreign policy must be shallow, implying clearly that mine was.

He need not have sneered. In this column last week, I admitted that I hesitated to take a stand because my understanding of the harsh realities of geopolitics is limited. What I do know is that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is wrong at every level. All of last week I have watched with increasing horror those images of women and children fleeing in terror as their homes and their cities were destroyed by Putin’s bombs and missiles. I have tried to understand why this has happened, and failed.

As someone who despises despots, I have never had either respect or admiration for Putin, but I tried to understand his speeches last week in which he talked of ‘de-nazification’ and ‘neo-Nazis’. Not only do these words make no sense in the context of Ukraine, but they seem to belong to another time. In any case, if Ukraine is being led by a President who is Jewish, they sound bizarre. If there has been a real hero in this horrible war, it has been Volodymyr Zelensky. It is his side that India should be on, and on the side of the Ukrainian people who have shown that they have the courage to die fighting for their country and for the values ​​that make them resist Russian occupation. These values ​​are democracy, freedom, and a respect for basic human dignity. These are India’s foundational values, and it is these values ​​that are enshrined in our Constitution.

It should shame us all that we could end up being on the wrong side of history because of some twisted idea of ​​’national interest’. In a war that could have autocracies pitted against democracies, it cannot possibly be in India’s national interest to be on the side of monsters like Putin. If there are ‘experts’ advising the Prime Minister differently, it is time they were sacked because they have harmed our national interest, not protected it.

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