Why Russia-India meeting matters for Middle East - analysis

Lavrov arrived in Delhi on Thursday from China, where he had hailed Beijing as part of a new “multipolar, just, democratic world order.”

 India's Foreign Minister Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart Lavrov are seen before their meeting in New Delhi (photo credit: @DrSJaishankar/Twitter/Handout via REUTERS)
India's Foreign Minister Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart Lavrov are seen before their meeting in New Delhi
(photo credit: @DrSJaishankar/Twitter/Handout via REUTERS)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Indian leader Narendra Modi and praised India’s refusal to condemn Ukraine invasion last week in an important meeting.

“The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has afforded Russia’s foreign minister the honor of a meeting as Sergei Lavrov praised India’s refusal to condemn the Ukraine invasion,” the Guardian reported. 

What is more important is that this meeting shows how Russia is reaching out to countries it thinks it can work with. Lavrov called US and western sanctions “illegal” in the talks in Russia.  

Lavrov arrived in Delhi on Thursday from China, where he had hailed Beijing as part of a new “multipolar, just, democratic world order.” This is a key point as Russia, Pakistan, China, Iran and other countries have been talking a lot recently about a “multipolar” world. While Russia has not received much support for its invasion of Ukraine, some countries like India have appeared less enthusiastic about joining the West in condemning Russia. 

This makes an impact in several areas. India has become closer to the US in the last decades, part of the general shift away from the politics of the Cold War and the non-aligned movement.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the COP26 conference in Glasgow earlier this month. (credit: GPO) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the COP26 conference in Glasgow earlier this month. (credit: GPO)

India is also very close to Israel and has close defense relations with Israel’s defense industry. Last week Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), together with India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), said they successfully completed a series of trials that resulted in four successful interceptions by the jointly-developed MRSAM Air and Missile Defense System. This is an important development and is part of the wider world of India-Israel relations. However, India’s relations with Moscow are also important and this has caused some in the US to be concerned about whether India is going to be a close partner of Washington going forward.  

There are other issues that matter here. India is also close to the UAE, and the UAE and Israel are increasingly working together in the wake of the Abraham Accords. Meanwhile, the US has declared Qatar a major non-NATO ally. The sense among some critics is that the UAE is also not as close an ally as the US would want. This has to do with issues like UAE-China ties and also the UAE being careful regarding condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Thus, the wider context of the Russia-India meetings is that India appears to be hedging and weighing its options. China is also hedging - it hosted Iran’s foreign minister as Lavrov was flying to India. A political crisis is unfolding in Pakistan, but the overall perception is that India, Iran, China and Russia may have some interests in common when it comes to this “multi-polar” world as these countries account for a huge population of the world. The western media perception that everyone is against Russia, therefore, is less clear from the standpoint of New Delhi.  

The pictures from the meetings are symbolic. As the media pointed out, Modi had not met other foreign ministers such as Liz Truss of the UK, or the Chinese Minister Wang Yi. Meeting Lavrov was thus a huge symbol of how much India cares for its relations with Moscow. India has abstained from successive United Nations resolutions censuring Moscow, the Guardian pointed out. 

While the US, UK and Australia and others want India on their side as part of the group of democratic countries confronting authoritarian states like Russia or China, India appears to wonder what might come next in this new world order.

 “These days our western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine … [We] appreciate that India is taking this situation in the entirety of facts, not just in a one-sided way. I can only say that the balanced position of India which is not influenced by blackmail or diktat methods inspires our respect,” Lavrov said.  

Lavrov also met S. Jaishankar his counterpart, the Indian diplomat and politician who is the current Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India. Jaishankar highlighted “the importance of cessation of violence and ending hostilities” and said that disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. 

Lavrov was clear that its war in Ukraine is indeed about reshaping the “world order.” Russia wants Ukraine to be neutral between its foreign affairs and the US and it also wants Europe to stop the drift towards a close alliance with the US.

Lavrov pointed to the US as trying to push for the kind of hegemony it had in the 1990s. His point was that India could suffer under a unipolar world. Lavrov said the US was not really interested in promoting democracy, but rather the US wanted to be the sole leader of the world. This was meant to influence India because India wants the respect of being a powerful country. The history of European colonialism in India means that India has wanted an independent foreign policy, not necessarily tied to what the US, UK or others want.  

“Many years ago we started moving in our relations with India, with China, with many other countries from using dollars and euros to more and more use of national currencies. Under these circumstances this trend I believe will be intensified,” Lavrov said. “We will be ready to supply to India any goods which India wants to buy … and I have no doubt that a way will be found to bypass the artificial impediments which illegal unilateral sanctions by the west create.” 

It's unclear how the US will feel about how Lavrov was greeted. However, the symbolism is already clear. India is pursuing an independent line while at the same time being a key friend of Israel and the UAE and other countries.

This means that the world is more complex than some might prefer in Washington.

And that also means that Iran and China are growing closer. As Israel expresses its concerns about a possible new Iran deal, all of this matters. Israel’s former leader Benjamin Netanyahu put a lot of effort into close relations with India and Modi in particular. He also had amicable relations with Russia and China.

That led some critics of Israel to see Israel as part of a group of authoritarian countries. Now Israel’s government is trying to have closer relations with Europe, and Israel recently hosted the Negev Summit with the foreign ministers of UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco. The US Secretary of State was also in Israel. This is all part of this new world order that is being formed.