Why Has India Joined Vostok-2022?


In 2022, military and political tensions have increased at a global level. In such circumstances, India has been gaining attention due to its foreign policy choices of multi alignment towards global powers. India has been a key ally of the West through QUAD and a reliable partner for them in the Indo Pacific Region. On the other hand, Sino- Indian ties go beyond the regional level through BRICS and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Moreover, Russian- Indian defense ties have been historical since the Cold War era. With the changing scenario in the global politics, to keep a strong position in the region and to counter Chinese influence, India has been projecting its military power through military drills. India’s participation in the VOSTOK-2022 drill was aiming to give strategic message that it would maintain a diplomatic balance with both the allies from the West and Russia in the international system.

Background of the launching of Vostok-2022

In the midst of the continuing conflict in Ukraine, Russia had begun Vostok-2022 in earlier September. It was an extensive military exercises in the east of the nation that continued until 7 September. The presence of Indian and Chinese forces attracted attention to this incident. It has also stated that such exercise opposes American hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region and that a new trilateral alliance is being formed based on shared strategic objectives. The exercises were conducted in seven Eastern Military District training facilities as well as in maritime and coastal regions around the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. The drills included participation from Russian Airborne Troops, long-range bombers, and military transport planes. More than 50,000 soldiers and 5,000 pieces of military hardware, including more than 140 aircraft and 60 vessels, have taken part in Vostok-2022. The former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as well as military contingents and observers from Algeria, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria, and Algeria also took part in the drills.

As part of Vostok 2022, the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China participated in a practice near the Sea of Japan. India, however, chose not to take part in the exercise’s maritime component, due to objections from Japan. After beginning its military operation against Ukraine on February 24, Russia staged this first multinational military exercise. India’s involvement in the military exercise was limited to strategic leadership and staff exercises.

Understanding India’s motivation to join Vostok 2022

India’s participation in the Vostok-2022 military exercises was part of its ongoing efforts to maintain a diplomatic balance with Russia at a time when that state is under Western sanctions for its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. The Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army has taken part in the military exercises. The contingent from the Indian Army included soldiers from the 7th and 8th Gorkha Rifles. These forces had engaged in cooperative operations, such as firepower demonstrations, combat dialogues, and combined field training exercises. The Indian Army also discussed how to incorporate new technologies into combat training through dialogues and tactical exercises. The military exercises this year were far less extensive than the ones that were conducted in 2018. It had shown how Moscow’s forces were under pressure since its troops were on the front lines in eastern Ukraine.

By agreeing to take part in the Vostok 2022 exercise, India was attempting to strike a balance. India and Russia have had a long-standing strategic relationship, and India depends on Russia for military equipment. India has also avoided taking the side of the US, and the West which imposed sanctions on Russia. It has kept up a robust bilateral engagement and trade with Russia. Additionally, India’s imports of coal and oil from Russia had surged. Over the past several months, New Delhi has been under fire from the US and other western countries, and not just because it declined to join them in strongly denouncing Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. Following that criticism, the Indian Army’s participation in Vostok-2022 was quite interesting. India is a core ally to the West against China in this region. Even serious border disputes took place on the Beijing-New Delhi border-line. For example, in 2020, clashes took place on the de facto Control Line in the Galwan Valley of the Ladakh Region of India, and both sides massed troops on the border. In 2022, after the BRICS Summit, negotiations between the parties on the border issues were almost on the edge of being resolved. Due to the neutrality of and emerging common interests from the war, both India and China had accepted the initiative of Moscow and participated in the multinational drills. Moreover, it has been announced that the US and India would conduct a drill in September 2022. This would take place only 100 km away from the disputed border between China and India. Despite this, India’s participation with China in Vostok-2022 is an extremely remarkable development in the region.

The drill aims to give the message that India is going to maintain a neutral stance of the Russian military operation in Ukraine which has been heavily criticized by the West. At the same time, the drill is very important for India due to the current developments in the Asia-Pacific region in the context of the Taiwan Crisis. It can be observed that India aims to reveal its role in East Asia through this drill. Thus, participation in the drill reveals that India has the capacity to maintain its independent foreign policy and also revealing the capability of Indian military. In the Asia-Pacific area, the United States and its allies have a significant influence, and these states are waging a containment campaign against China. In addition, Japan’s intention to build up its military force rapidly suggests that the area may turn into a conflict zone. In order to further ensure a strategic position, India’s participation in such drills is intended to demonstrate its offensive capacity of conventional weapons to major powers.

Analyzing the growth in Sino-Indian-Russian ties

India’s participation with China in Vostok-2022 is an extremely remarkable development. This would further increase the influence of the BRICS and SCO in the region. Therefore, it can be argued that Russia is positioned as an actor that maintains the balance in China-India relations. Beijing, on the other hand, is pleased with the development of cooperation on the New Delhi and Moscow. With the ongoing interests involving the Russia- Ukraine war, India wants to maintain a certain level of rapprochement with China. The exercise has shown another example of growing ties between Russia, India and China. The Asian powers like China and India have refused to criticize the actions of Vladmir Putin. This had led Russia’s continuation of offensive military attack on Ukraine. Both China and India had opposed US and European sanctions against Moscow which exaggerated food crisis, economic crisis and monetary inflation around the globe. Here, the Russian factor was seen effective in comparison to the West’s efforts.  Russia had further extended its support to India by selling oils at a lower price, sending food fertilizers, exporting food grains and also advocated the idea of a common currency in the BRICS summit to undermine the domination of US dollar which caused disruption in India’s foreign reserve. Further, Russia had strongly supported China amid tensions with the US caused by the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s to Taiwan. Russian President Vladimir Putin compared US support for Ukraine and Taiwan. He urged that both were part of alleged American efforts to create global instability. Thus, Vostok 2022 drill indicated that these big powers from Asia could act together in defense and security policies.

Being in the center of the Indo Pacific region, India’s military engagements with other Asian nations such as Russia, China in the Indo-Pacific region are gaining momentum. It is important to note that India has defense ties with Russia but it also joined Chinese troops in Vostok 2022 which is the multination military exercise. On the other hand, India is also pursuing the drill diplomacy with QUAD allies like U.S., Japan and Australia from time to time to keep its domination in the region. With such involvement with the global powers, India is keeping a strong grip in the regional politics of the Indo-Pacific. It is maintaining a strong position in international diplomacy and further projecting its military capability to all the global powers at the same time.

– Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

[Read as a Pdf]