Confirmation Bias Explains The Misportrayal Of Russia’s UNSC Stance Towards Kashmir

Russia reaffirmed its unchanged and decades-long position of supporting India’s stance towards Kashmir twice in the past week, yet the tweets that were made by its Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN during the UNSC meeting on this issue are being misinterpreted because of wishful thinking confirmation bias.

Last week’s closed door meeting on Kashmir at the UNSC sparked a heated debate all across South Asia about Russia’s real position towards this issue, with many wondering whether it stood more with India or Pakistan based on the statements made by its officials. The author already addressed this topic in two separate pieces titled “It’s A Wrong Interpretation That Russia Supported Pakistan At The UNSC” and “Interpreting Russia & China’s UNSC Stances Towards Kashmir & Crimea“, but further elaboration is necessary in order to clear up a few lingering questions that have continued to serve as the subject of intense discussion over the weekend. The insistence on Russia supposedly supporting Pakistan more than India seems to be centered on the fact that the country’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN invoked the Security Council’s prior resolutions on Kashmir in his tweets, which are being interpreted as a sign that Russia suddenly changed its decades-long policy of regarding the issue as a bilateral one.

That’s the wrong interpretation, however, since it was to be expected that Russia — as a permanent member of the UNSC whose predecessor state of the Soviet Union voted for those very same resolutions in the past — would make passing reference to UNSC decisions on this topic after it was once again taken up by the Security Council for the first time in more than half a century. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that Russia’s stance has suddenly shifted in support of the Pakistani interpretation of those resolutions since Moscow has always believed that Islamabad hasn’t fully complied with the UNSC’s demands. The same standard also holds true for the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN’s invocation of the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration, which Russia regards as each party’s voluntary decision to resolve their disputes on a bilateral basis. After all, left out of this heated debate is the fact that the Russian official literally tweeted that his country hopes that the issue “will be settled bilaterally”, thus removing any ambiguity about Moscow’s position.

Furthermore, there’s also a logical argument that could be applied to this discussion as well, and it’s that Russia wouldn’t task a comparatively lower-ranking official with changing the country’s decades-long policy towards this issue that was just reaffirmed two days prior by the Foreign Minister himself. According to the press release published on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, Lavrov told his Pakistani counterpart about “the need to de-escalate tensions and the absence of an alternative to resolving the differences between Pakistan and India on a bilateral basis by political and diplomatic means”, as well as adding that “Russia’s representatives in the United Nations also adhere to this consistent position.” There couldn’t be any more official of a statement about Russia’s stance than that, which debunks the interpretation that the country’s position abruptly changed and was announced by a lower-ranking representative on Twitter, no less, instead of by Lavrov himself or his spokeswoman Zakharova during a press conference as would be expected.

The last point that needs to be cleared up in order to settle this debate is to address the piece that was published in India’s Deccan Herald titled “Russia stuns India, invokes UN resolutions on Kashmir“, which is being presented as proof that India isn’t pleased with Russia’s position. Firstly, most Indian media outlets (which, it should be noted, are more or less under the influence of the ruling BJP) have reported the opposite and are instead praising Russia for reaffirming its support for their country, so singling out that one article in particular to support the opposite argument isn’t representative of the bigger picture. Secondly, the Deccan Herald seems to be relatively independent, and if anything, even somewhat critical of the ruling party after publishing pieces condemning the country’s horrible labor rights situation and comparing Modi’s governmental structure to the imperial-era British Raj, so it might have an editorial interest in framing Russia’s UNSC stance on Kashmir in a way that makes it look like a defeat for the BJP.

Altogether, there is no convincing substance to the interpretation that the tweets by Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN represent any change in Moscow’s decades-long stance of supporting New Delhi’s position towards Kashmir. Both Lavrov and the lower-ranking official specifically said that their country regards this issue as being a bilateral one, and the Foreign Minister even said that his articulation of this policy is shared by Russia’s UN representatives, wisely foreseeing that the forthcoming tweets would probably be misinterpreted by well-intended people as a result of confirmation bias. Furthermore, even in the extremely unlikely event that Russia’s position evolved, it would be announced by the Foreign Minister himself or his spokeswoman in an official setting, not revealed by a lower-ranking official on Twitter. It also doesn’t matter that one or another Indian outlet or commentator is also under the influence of confirmation bias in thinking that this isn’t the case since the words of Russia’s own officials on this topic are all that really matter in determining Moscow’s formal stance towards Kashmir, which remains unchanged and in support of New Delhi.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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