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Refusing to Condemn Russia’s War, Does India Really Share Japan’s Values?

In April, the Indian government refused to allow a Self-Defense Forces plane carrying humanitarian aid to Ukraine to land in India.



Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on March 19, 2022.

“Japan will be able to regain all the Northern Territories for sure!”

The speaker on the other end of the cell phone line seemed to be laughing merrily. 

The person in question was a Ukrainian soldier named Oleh, who is currently at the front fighting against the Russian military in southern Ukraine near the city of Kherson. Last week, I spoke with him by cell phone about the conditions on-the-ground where he is stationed and the overall state of the war. 

I first met Oleh when I was in Kiev in February 2014 while covering the Maidan Revolution (“Revolution of Dignity”) that led to the downfall of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Shortly after that, Russia illegally occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine. At that time, Oleh helped me in my reporting, and we’ve been friends ever since.

In civilian life, Oleh was an engineer and businessman. I found him highly knowledgeable about both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. Now he is wearing the uniform of his country and toting a rifle as one of the freedom fighters resisting the invaders.

Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces attend military drills, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv Region, Ukraine April 15, 2022. REUTERS / Stringer

Oleh’s Calculus

When Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, experts in various Western countries and Japan almost universally predicted that the defeat of Ukraine at the hands of Russia’s overwhelmingly powerful military forces was only a matter of time. 

Nonetheless, even then, Oleh analyzed the likely outcome as follows, “Russia will cause an enormous number of casualties but cannot win in the end.” And now, lo and behold, that seems to be exactly what is happening.

In fact, Ukraine has even begun to counterattack against the Russian army in the east, where pro-Russian separatists control a large swath of territory. Now there is talk that before long a large counteroffensive will begin in the south as well, designed to take back territory seized by Russia.

Even so, seeing how our Prime Minister and other Japanese government officials have been banned from even entering Russia, I was stunned when Oleh said that Japan would be getting the Northern Territories back. But he was being absolutely serious. 

His reasoning was as follows: An economically and militarily “powerful” Russia would not be willing to make any concessions on the return of territory to Japan. After Russia loses the current war, however, its domestic political scene and economy will be in turmoil and its position will be greatly weakened. That will offer the perfect opportunity for Japan to recover the Northern Territories. 

That all makes sense. And I would say that Oleh’s analysis seems spot on. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

Where is India?

World opinion is sharply divided on the Ukraine issue. As might have been expected, authoritarian and totalitarian states, including China, have supported Moscow. 

With that in mind, it is alarming that India, the largest democracy not only in Asia but indeed the entire world, has avoided criticizing Russia and has decided not to stand shoulder to shoulder with Western countries, including Japan

Our English-language news and opinion site JAPAN Forward has been carrying many articles concerning India. The following is the headline for one of those recent articles:

[Asia’s Next Page] Missing a Common Synergy: The India-Japan Divide on Ukraine


That article was written by Dr. Jagannath Panda, head of the Stockholm Center for South Asian & Indo-Pacific Affairs at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm, Sweden. 

In April, the Indian government refused to allow a Self-Defense Forces plane carrying humanitarian aid to Ukraine to land in India, and that nation has also been purchasing large volumes of Russian oil at discounted prices. Dr. Panda pointed out that such actions by India are threatening to create a “strategic divide” between New Delhi and its Western partners, including Japan. With India remaining largely dependent on Russian weaponry, Panda pointed out that in the future “delicate maneuvering [by India] will be necessary.”

At the end of April, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Sanjay Kumar Verma, India’s ambassador to Japan. When I asked him why India had avoided criticizing Russia and refrained from imposing sanctions, Ambassador Verma replied, “Just as Japan decides its policies based on its national interest, so too is India making its decisions in accordance with its national interest.” 

Nonetheless, he did not make clear what those national interests were. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be arriving in Japan next week for talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and to attend the Quad Summit meeting. 

Is India refusing to condemn Russia’s actions because it is hooked on Russian arms and cheap oil? Is India truly a friend that shares the same values as Japan? I would very much like to ask the Prime Minister those questions. 

JAPAN Forward remains committed to informing the world about the directions that India and an increasingly divided world are headed in from Japan’s perspective. 


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(Read the column in Japanese at this link.)

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Author: Yasuo Naito, Editor in Chief, JAPAN Forward