The West may believe that India is on the wrong side of history, but New Delhi understands that it is just on the wrong side of geography. Ukraine may be central to Western interests, and the US and its partners and allies may have the power to exert some influence or at least bog Russia down on Ukraine's cost. Still, India's geopolitical situation does not afford her the same luxury.
With Moscow, India has always prioritized its interests over its values. Even in January 1980, when the UNGA condemned the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan, India declined to stand publicly against Moscow even when then prime minister Indira Gandhi vehemently expressed her personal disapproval to Soviet authorities. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, the Indian response was highly guarded. The reticence is rooted in classic geopolitics. India has suffered when Russia is weakened by external adventures and cannot act as an independent power pole in Eurasia. Russia's involvement in Afghanistan strengthened the US-China-Pakistan axis, which provided perfect conditions for Pakistan to build its nuclear capability.
Western sanctions after 2014 have helped create significant convergence between Beijing and Moscow. Russia became an enthusiastic partner in China's flagship foreign economic policy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It has also differed more and more with India on the Indo-Pacific and strengthened its military relationship with Pakistan. The current crisis and the Western response will not only cripple Russia, but it may well also end whatever autonomous agency Moscow may have vis-à-vis China. An alliance of Eurasia's authoritarian continental powers will portend great dangers not only for India but the rest of Indo-Pacific's maritime democracies.
Balancing the combined power of Russia and China will be extremely difficult. Russian oil and gas reserves could effectively end China's Malacca Strait dilemma, and its military-industrial complex can help accelerate China's military modernization. Japan and Australia are still not only once-removed from Chinese power through vast swathes of water, but they are also American alliance partners.
New Delhi enjoys no such privileges. Russia's interests are, however, independent of India's interests, and Indian diplomatic gymnastics may not stop the emergence of a tight alliance between the two. India's muted response toward Russia over Ukraine is, therefore, driven by its need to account for the emerging dynamics of Eurasia's balance of power and the impact on national security.
Second, Western entreaties over “alignment of values” between the liberal world and the world's largest democracy do not trump India's cold-blooded calculations of national interests. Not without reason, India and the US were estranged democracies during the Cold War. Much water has flown down the Ganges and Potomac in the last 30 years, however.
The India-US relationship is far more robust than ever. Still, it would be a mistake to believe that an appeal to values is responsible for transforming Indo-US relations. Instead, India's judgment on the “value of alignment” has primarily directed its embrace of the US and its security partners in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. In the post-Cold War world, at the height of US unipolarity, India jumped on the bandwagon of American power because of prospective gains it could make by aligning with the US. As the high-level Group of Minister's report submitted to the Indian government in 2000 stated, "meaningful, broad-based engagement with the United States spanning political, economic, and technological interests and commonalities, will impact beneficially on our external security concerns with a resultant albeit less visible impact on our internal security environment. Conversely, an adversarial relationship with that State can have significant negative repercussions across the same broad range of issues and concerns."