India, a key ally in the US-led effort to contain China, has joined Beijing in abstaining from a UN Security Council (UNSC) vote demanding an immediate Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.

Diplomatic observers in Washington see this as a clear indication that India would not strain its relations with an old ally, Russia, to please its new partner, the United States.

On Saturday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US would now raise this matter in the UN General Assembly, “where the nations of the world can, will, and should hold Russia accountable and stand united with Ukraine”.

He also authorised the provision of an additional $350 million in immediate military assistance to Ukraine to “help defend itself from Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war”.

As expected, Russia vetoed the resolution, moved in the Council on Friday evening by the United States and Albania, thwarting the move that would have demanded immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine.

A ‘no’ vote from any of the five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — stops action on any measure put before the council.

Underlining the world body’s helplessness before a veto, Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged at a news briefing after the vote that the United Nations had again failed to achieve its primary objective: to end a war.

But “we must never give up,” he said. “We must give peace another chance. Soldiers need to return to their barracks. Leaders need to turn to the path of dialogue and peace.”

Even more significant than the expected Russian veto was India’s decision to join China in abstaining from the vote, although the two nations often vote against each other at the Security Council.

Another close US ally — the United Arab Emirates — also declined to support the resolution, which was watered down twice to gain consensus.

The original resolution, circulated by various media outlets, had demanded a Chapter 7 action against Russia which, it said, had violated the sovereignty of a UN member. Under the UN charter, a Chapter 7 action authorises the use of force against a nation that’s recognised as a threat to peace by the Security Council.

The resolution was further revised to replace the word “condemns” with “deplores” while the reference to a Chapter 7 action was deleted.

India is believed to have played a key role in toning down the resolution, yet it did not vote for it. In doing so, India ignored several attempts by US policy makers to win over New Delhi. Hours before the vote, Secretary Blinken called Indian External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and “stressed the importance of a strong collective response to condemn Russia’s invasion and call for an immediate withdrawal and ceasefire,” his office said.

But India’s UN Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti said India decided not to vote because it believed in resolving the dispute through diplomacy.

“It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. We must return to it. For all these reasons, India has chosen to abstain on this resolution,” he said.

“India’s decision to abstain wasn’t surprising, as it reflects New Delhi’s consistent position. But it was notable given that the resolution had reportedly been watered down in an effort to get support from more members,” said Michael Kugelman, a scholar of South Asian affairs at the Wilson Centre, Washington.

“India’s position is grudgingly accepted by Washington, but it’s become a bigger balancing act for India given that the current Russian aggression is especially egregious, and US-India relations have grown considerably since the last major Russian aggression, in 2014.”

Inside the Security Council, three of the five permanent members — Britain, France and the US — voted for the resolution. Nine non-permanent members who also voted in favour were Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway.

“Let me make one thing clear. Russia, you can veto this resolution, but you cannot veto our voices, you cannot veto the truth, you cannot veto our principles, you cannot veto the Ukrainian people,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote.

China’s permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Jun, told the Council that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states should be respected and that the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be upheld”.

“Security of one country cannot come at the cost of undermining the security of other nations…Ukraine should become a bridge between East and West,” he added.

Later, Ambassador Greenfield released a joint statement signed by more than 50 nations, condemning the Russian veto. “We will be taking this matter to the General Assembly, where the Russian veto does not apply,” she declared.


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