Russia has become the world’s most sanctioned country since its invasion of Ukraine. However, only a few Asian states have taken strong measures against Moscow.
China has declined to criticize the invasion of Ukraine directly and has not sanctioned Russia.
India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Mongolia also abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution calling for Russia’s military activities in Ukraine to halt.
While Western allies including as Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have applied sanctions, the impact has been limited, with Tokyo and Seoul banning several Russian institutions from the Swift global payments system.
This is due to the fact that the Asian countries who have joined the Western-led sanctions account for only 8% of Russia’s worldwide commerce.
“Without having the two Asian giants China and India on board on sanctions who account for 18 percent of Russia’s trade, there is unlikely to be any significant impact on Russia,” says Professor Syed Munir Khasru, chairman of the international think tank, the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance.
And President Putin has been planning ahead of time. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea eight years ago, Moscow has been sanctioned by the West.
“After 2014, Russia started cutting down the reliance on US dollars as part of foreign currency reserve and moving to gold and the Chinese yuan,” he says.
For Beijing, it is a matter of comparing the benefits of not taking action against Russia against the costs of doing so.
China is already Russia’s greatest economic partner, and in the weeks leading up to the invasion, Beijing eased limitations on wheat imports and struck a 30-year agreement to purchase additional Russian gas.
Meanwhile, a growing number of Russian enterprises and institutions, including Gazprom’s energy arm, have begun utilizing China’s currency, the yuan, in settlements. According to Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s former UN and Russian ambassador, China has three goals.
For starters, because of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, China is extremely sensitive to international relations concepts such as sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference.
Russia is India’s and Vietnam’s top armaments supplier, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Moscow last month to discuss a massive gas pipeline agreement with President Putin.
“India has a very large stock of Soviet era weapons that it needs to keep operational,” Mr Kausikan explains. “And the reason he needs to keep them operational is China.”
Despite its close relations with Russia, India is also a member of the US-led Quad, along with Japan and Australia, which many regard as a counter-alliance to China’s expanding influence in the area.
“Whose side is India on?,” tweeted Pankaj Saran, the country’s former ambassador to Russia. “We are on our side.”
Furthermore, the UN vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine highlights regional divides.
North Korea was one of five countries – including, predictably, Russia – to vote against the resolution.
Myanmar voted to condemn Russia, however this might be attributed to its UN ambassador being a member of the country’s deposed government in exile. The country’s military junta, which took control last year, has publicly supported Russia, which has continued to send weaponry to Myanamar despite the coup.