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Shivshankar Menon, India’s former National Security Advisor and former foreign secretary, has said the Narendra Modi government has handled the Ukraine crisis “very well” but then added that “it should have called it an invasion and a war”. Shivshankar Menon explained that failure to call it an invasion and a war raises credibility issues for India. However, he also pointed out there was no need to identify Russia by name both because there’s a long history behind the Ukraine crisis stretching back to 1990 and also because it would hamper and hinder the role India should play in forging a peaceful resolution acceptable to both sides.
In a 45-minute interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, Menon also said the Indian government must play a forceful and active role in finding a solution acceptable to all sides. When questioned, he said this could be done through public speeches and statements but perhaps it’s better done through forceful but quiet diplomacy. He said Russia, the US and Ukraine are in active contact with the Indian government and New Delhi must use that to push for peace and also for a sensible acceptable solution. At one point in the interview, Menon discussed the possibility of Ukraine becoming a neutral buffer-like state between Europe and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other. In this context, he pointed out Ukraine’s neutrality would be similar to that of Finland and Sweden.
The interview begins with a set of questions about the Russian invasion. These are to do with the slow progress it is making – is this deliberate or planned, or is it an indication, as the Western media is saying, that Russia has problems said to be of logistics, supply and even morale? Why has Russia not made greater use of its air force? Has the slow military progress raised questions about Russia’s prowess as a military power? What is the purpose of the talks being conducted at the same time as the invasion? And how does he see the situation ending – with the complete surrender and annexation of Ukraine or will Russia settle for separating the Donbas region and replacing the Volodymy Zelenskyy government?
The next section of the interview discusses Russia’s case for the action it has taken – verbal, not written, assurances were given in the 1990s (including by James Baker) that NATO will not extend its membership eastwards to east European countries. This section also includes a discussion of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements at press conferences and in speeches where he asks how would the US respond if Russian missiles were placed in Canada and Mexico? How could the US have thought it can extend NATO to the doorsteps of Russia and not expect a response from Moscow? There’s also a brief discussion about the American scholar John Mearsheimer’s argument that for 25 years, the US has been “poking Russia in the eye” and, therefore, the Ukraine crisis is the fault of the West.
A third section of the interview is a lengthy discussion about how the changing relationship between the great powers – the US, Russia, China – will affect India and its implications for New Delhi’s relationship with them. Here you will find Menon does not share the fears expressed by others that Russia’s dependence on China could lead to problems in terms of the supply of military equipment to India or a change in Moscow’s stand on the India-China problem and the India-Pakistan problem. Menon says that he doesn’t accept that Russia is “dependent” on China. He sees them as two parallel tracks. He believes Russia is not likely to come under China’s influence as others have feared.
The next section of the interview discusses India’s relationship with the US and how that is or can be affected by the Ukraine crisis and India’s response to that crisis. There’s a lengthy discussion of statements made by Donald Lu, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, to a Senate hearing last week. There’s also a discussion of what former foreign secretary Shyam Saran calls “the nightmare scenario for India”.
There’s a small section about whether the Quad has lost importance or been diminished in Washington’s eyes. Menon says he does not accept this interpretation.
Watch the video for a full understanding of the range of subjects that are discussed in the interview.