It is not just a question of patronising India, but of the double standards that have come to the fore in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in the ensuing sanctions game

After being on the world stage for 75 years the last thing India needs to be told is about history and diplomacy. In fact, if the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi or its representatives come down hard and fast on those giving lessons with little to no idea of as to where the country is coming from that should be hardly surprising. The latest has to do with the Dutch Ambassador to the United Kingdom Karel van Oosterom, tweeting “You (India) should not have abstained in the GA (General Assembly). Respect the UN Charter”, in an obvious reference to India’s stand on Ukraine.

The response from India’s Representative at the United Nations, T.S. Tirumurti, was quick and blunt: “Kindly don’t patronize us Ambassador. We know what to do”. The perhaps stunned Dutch diplomat deleted his tweet especially when seasoned foreign service officers reminded van Oosterom that he did not even have the credentials to put out a tweet, neither was he at the United Nations headquarters nor at his foreign office back home.

Former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal tweeted: “Dutch amb to UK remarking on our GA vote shows his unprofessionalism/ lack of discipline in Dutch Foreign Office. Has no locus standi. Not PR to UN or India head in Dutch FO. His own govt has not said this. Buccaneering on his own in imperious style. Unfit for his position.” And Tirumurti’s predecessor at the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin, was even more pointed in his comments. “Wow… Amb @KvanOosterom Is this a new form of imperious Diplomacy… Don’t all primers teach that post-colonial diplomacy begins with respect for sovereign choices - especially of voting @UN? Time to go back to the basics of diplomatic practice”, he said in a tweet.

The idea is not to score political points or bring down the Dutch diplomat a notch or two but to drive home the point to all those involved in international affairs of a saying —There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. And in the case of the Ukraine, New Delhi’s policy has invariably been dictated by safeguarding and enhancing Indian national interests which at this juncture does not allow the country to choose sides. India has repeatedly come down on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ensuing loss of lives and a consistent call to get back to international law and rules based system. Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to Europe has made the point quite eloquently that the war in Ukraine can have no winners.

It is not just a question of patronising India, but of the double standards that have come to the fore in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in the ensuing sanctions game. Except for a small handful in the international system no one has condoned Moscow for what it has done; and has called for an end to a brutal campaign that has taken a huge toll on both countries, especially Ukraine. But in an over enthusiasm to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin, the West seems to have forgotten what Moscow has been demanding all along, especially since the early 1990s—to respect the security interests of Russia.

Washington would have no truck with Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, but Moscow cannot object to NATO missiles in its front yard in 2022? On the causes of the present conflict Pope Francis is reported to have spoken of “anger” in the Kremlin that could have been “facilitated” by “the barking of NATO at Russia’s door”. And the same dual standards are in vogue when it comes to threatening nations who do business with Russia—Europe can keep its energy doors open to Russian oil and gas but India cannot lift Russian crude at discounted rates! Conveniently forgotten in all this is that India’s dependence on Russian oil is about 1 per cent of all its requirements.

In criticising for not taking a stand against Russia, the tendency has been with some in the West, notably the United States, to remind India that the Russia-China nexus will not translate into Moscow being with New Delhi on the next standoff at the Line of Actual Control. By the same standards where was Europe and the United States when the confrontation at Galwan Valley took place? At best some pontifications from foreign offices, White House and Foggy Bottom. And those talking about India’s over- reliance on Russian weaponry across all services have to bear in mind that diversification and indigenisation processes are already in the works but full-fledged integration and operationalisation take time.

At a time when the world, including India, is anxiously looking to an early closure to the debilitating conflict, there are reports that some in the western world, especially the United States, are actively involved in providing intelligence to Ukraine to facilitate bringing down high value targets including Russian Generals and navy destroyers. All these may be passed off as “routine” intelligence sharing but undoubtedly prolonging the agony of peoples on both sides.

***The author was a former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and the United States. All views expressed are personal.