History Wars

India and China may have prevented a nuclear attack on Ukraine

putin and jingping

Vladimir Putin with Xi Jinping during a state visit to Moscow in May 2015.

It’s safe to say that the Ukraine War isn’t going the way Vladimir Putin and the Russian military expected it would. From the moment his war plan began to unravel, Putin has made some unhinged statements, ones that gave much of the rest of the world, whether they are Russia’s friend or foe, cause for concern.

It’s a well-known fact that Russia’s president put his nuclear forces on high alert, after his three-day plan to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv failed and Russian forces became bogged down in a bloody stalemate. Since then, he’s deployed his land-based nuclear force, readied Russian Air Force bombers and sent nuclear arms aboard the Russian Navy’s ships for the first time in 30 years.

In August 2022, Putin gave a series of speeches where he stated he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. The very next month, he said he believed the West was planning to use the threat of nuclear weapons to “blackmail Moscow.” He even blamed the United States for setting a nuclear “precedent” by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945

In an interview with The Atlantic before the latest G20 summit in New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the Russians would have used tactical nuclear weapons already, had it not been for the intervention of China and India. 

“We urged, and I think successfully, other countries that might have a little bit more influence with Russia these days, like China, but also other countries like India, to engage him [Vladimir Putin] directly about their absolute opposition to any use of nuclear weapons. And we know that they conveyed those messages, and I think that had some effect,” he said.

Blinken added that India and China have “a little bit more influence with Russia these days.”

That influence comes from years of bilateral trade agreements with Russia, including India’s large-scale purchase of Russian arms during the Cold War. In a recent United Nations General Assembly vote to end the war in Ukraine, India and China abstained from voting on the measure with 30 other countries. 141 members voted in favor of the resolution, seven opposed it.

indian army helped prevent ukraine nuclear attack
An Indian Army officer briefing Russian soldiers during a joint exercise in 2015.

“India remains steadfastly committed to multilateralism and upholds the principles of the UN Charter. We will always call for dialogue and diplomacy as the only viable way out. While we take note of the stated objective of today’s Resolution, given its inherent limitations in reaching our desired goal of securing lasting peace, we are constrained to abstain,” India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ruchira Kamboj told the UN.

China’s stance on Ukraine is much more detailed. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement outlining 12 principles of its political views on the conflict. It does declare that sovereignty of borders must be respected, but Russia’s annexation of 18% of Ukrainian territory makes that point unclear. It also demands an end to hostilities, a “Cold War mentality,” and the initiation of peace talks. Much of the rest of its stance is related to economics, sanctions, and supply chains. 

It does state that reducing strategic risks includes its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, proliferation of those weapons, and the development of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has shrugged off nuclear fears from the West multiple times, reiterating that Russia’s nuclear policy is that it would only be used for defense. This statement doesn’t have the calming effect Lavrov hopes it does, because Russia claims its entire invasion of Ukraine is a defensive measure, a claim that got him a round of laughter at the recent G20 meeting.