The Russo-Ukraine war can teach us a lot about the direction we want to take our national interests. The predictions of India soon becoming a world power and a five trillion-dollar economy are a red herring. In the current geopolitical scenario, being a significant economic power integrated into the globalised economy alone is not ideal for a developing nation like India. Things become more apparent if we contextualise our understanding, especially with Russia’s ensuing following the afoot battle. In the era of globalisation, every incident has a consequential global significance. How will a developing nation like India survive in case of any western sanctions on us? The only answer is to anticipate and be prepared for such a sanction. For that, we need to examine and understand the current scenario of anti-Russian sanctions as a case study. India needs to understand from these events how such global sanctions can affect our economy and our citizens if they were hypothetically applied against us.
In the outright sense, Russia is a European Petrostate with minimal domestic capability in modern manufacturing and, at the same time, heavy reliance on agricultural imports. Its main revenue stream is from the oil and natural gas it pipes to Europe. Russia uses that money to maintain its military and other expenditures. Its tech sector is heavily linked to Silicon Valley companies. The Russian domestic market is rife with western products that have outcompeted their Russian counterparts.
The impact of the western sanctions has resulted in the heavily affected by the Russian market and tech sector. These sanctions arise from western countries as well as western companies. The domestic market is seeing a price rise for essential commodities. Services like YouTube and even Apple Pay and Google Pay are not functioning. Russian manufacturing will be heavily crippled with component imports being sanctioned, resulting in the automobile, electronics and even the space sector being affected. These sanctions have now reached a level in which it directly affects the lives of ordinary Russians. Russian passport holders are being ostracised from western society in many ways.
This includes discrimination like excommunication of Russian restaurants in western societies and Russians losing their jobs in international firms and companies. The Russian Paralympic team was banned from the Olympics. The situation has become so complex and ridiculous to such an extent that Universities across Europe are banning the study of Doestoevesky because he was Russian. Dangerous statements like “there are no innocent or neutral Russians” (made by a former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul) or common Russians accused of being the reason for the war, are made by many academics and armchair analysts in Western media. Such narratives are dangerous and encourage further escalation of conflict and xenophobia.
Geopolitically, these sanctions have the capacity to push Russia firmly into the Chinese orbit. Russian dependence on Chinese exports will grow exponentially. The Russian expulsion from the SWIFT payments system could see an alternative Chinese led payment system with the Renminbi as the exchange currency. The Chinese will also be willing customers of Russian petroleum. Thus, China can end up being the real benefactor of this conflict.
This can have disastrous consequences for India. Our defence hardware is heavily dependent on Russia. The immediate need of the hour, therefore, is defence indigenisation. An alternative for ageing Russian hardware needs to be found, and ideally, it needs to be Indian made and not western. If Russian hardware is to be replaced with western hardware, it would be easier for the west to sanction India in case of any future conflict. Thus, defence indigenisation is paramount.
The discontinuation of western tech services in Russia should also teach us that modern warfare is more than just military action. Our society’s heavy dependence on tech, from mobile phones and computers to software and apps, which are primarily western or Chinese made, makes it a prime target for disruptive attacks and bans. Data localisation and hardware indigenisation need to be prioritised by the government. Western companies need to be legally coerced into basing their data in India, and foreign manufacturers need to be incentivised to base their manufacturing and R&D hubs in India.
Additionally, Indian manufacturers need to be encouraged and perhaps given tax breaks to promote domestic manufacturing capability. An economy heavily dependent on imports and remittances from abroad is a recipe for punitive sanctions. India needs to focus on its domestic market, ramp up manufacturing capability and make it able to outcompete foreign companies. Widespread xenophobia can be expected in such cases against the Indian diaspora abroad, and remittances might stop. The only viable alternative for such a situation is to become industrialised.
So, we can say that this war and the western sanction on Russia must be a lesson to India and its people in all angles. This war is a moment of self-realization for Indians as well. We should device new modes of systems that enable us to strengthen us from within via nationalistically motivated selection of priorities and sovereignty of decisions pertaining the interests of the nation. But, this does not mean a total exodus from the global web of coexistence and mutual interactions. Collaborations are always necessary. But our priority should be to conceptualize and strengthen the force of sociation called Nationalism.
To achieve relatively higher market autonomy and liberty, government schemes such as “Make in India” and “Aatmanirbharbharat” should be enforced. The dominant Western media’s attempt to entangle India in their hegemonic narratives may come to an end when India acts rather than narrates its potential and abilities.