Ukraine war: energy-hungry South Asia forced to walk a fine line between Russia, China and US
- The global disruption stemming from Western sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine has sparked fears over food, energy and diplomatic ties
- India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh must choose wisely as they try to balance energy imports, security and economic projects with major powers
There are many factors behind India adopting this policy. First, New Delhi wants to preserve and convey its strategic autonomy. It does not want to be branded part of a certain bloc against another nation, especially given its recent border confrontation with China.
Pakistan subsequently abstained from the UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia, urging a negotiated settlement. This was aimed at averting the precedent of international acceptance of military intervention as a means of conflict resolution, given Pakistan’s own conflict with India over Kashmir.
With the US shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific, Pakistan is keen to build relationships with regional players who have influence over the strategic architecture of South and Central Asia. Like China, Pakistan also needs Russia to work with central Asian states for inter-regional connectivity and trade projects.
Both countries’ interests also converge in Afghanistan as Russia hopes to keep militant Islam away from central Asia. Plans for constructing the Pakistan Stream pipeline with the help of Russia are also under way.
The US quest for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” has attracted Russian attention to the region. Sri Lanka is a natural ally. Russia has been a reliable partner both in peaceful and fraught times, extending critical support during Sri Lanka’s civil war. It has invested in the island’s industrial sector and is one of the largest importers of Ceylon tea.
Having also abstained from the UN resolution against Russia, Bangladesh finds itself in a delicate balancing act. It relies on the US and European markets for its export industries, the cornerstone of its economic boom, while it is also part of the Belt and Road Initiative. It has expressed an interest in joining the “Indo-Pacific relationship” as well.
Bangladesh has traditionally enjoyed strong relations with Moscow. Russia is an important source of development funding for the country, having invested heavily in its energy sector. Dhaka’s primary objective is to keep its economic and social transformation on track, so it can hardly be seen to be taking sides. It has so far refrained from buying Russian oil.
As Asia emerges as Russia’s financial saviour, China has become a leading market for Russian crude oil with India close behind. In doing so, India aspires to strike a balance between its strategic partnership with the US and the imperatives of its relationship with Russia while securing a check on China.
Asma Khan Lone is an academic based in Kashmir and the author of the upcoming book, “The Great Gilgit Game”