Revitalise Indo-Russian bond

Given that China and India are at each other’s throats, India needs to shed its lassitude towards Moscow

By Author Samudrala VK   |   Published: 17th Jul 2020   11:46 pm

Ever since the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, it is widely perceived that India’s engagement with Russia is marked with intermittent engagements and on and off photo-ops. Russia, which is reeling under sanctions on account of the annexation of Crimea, has been struggling to stand on its feet. On the domestic front, the country is mired in sluggish economic growth due to oil glut.

In the post-liberal world, India’s liaison with the US and other western powers has become more visible. Given the recent geopolitical situation in South Asia and around the world, it is the right time for India to adapt to the new challenges and transform its foreign outlook accordingly.

Sino-Pak-Russian Axis

Russia and Pakistan, which are as different as chalk and cheese, have seen a convergence of their interests in recent times. It is well-known that China is molly-coddling Pakistan and other South Asian countries to counter India. It is a no brainer to deduce that the Sino-Pak-Russian axis has created a quake in India’s boots.

Given the fact that China and India are at each other’s throats, it is necessary on the part of India to shed its lassitude towards Moscow. In the light of geopolitical shemozzle in the South Asian region, Russia, which is armed to the teeth, would play a pivotal role if the situation spins out of control. The RIC (Russia-India-China) has failed to cut the mustard ever since its formation. This platform helps Russia build bridges between China and India. Russia can bring new lease of life to the desultory RIC by bringing both players on the table. Russia has been also engaging with Pakistan on various fronts.

What’s concerning New Delhi the most is that Moscow’s rapprochement with Islamabad has extended well beyond the economic sphere now. In 2014, shelving the cold war hostility, Russia lifted arms embargo against Pakistan, which subsequently paved the way for defence partnership between them. Started in 2016, with codename – Friendship (Druzbha) drills, the annual military exercises between Moscow and Islamabad have been raising eyebrows in New Delhi. In the energy sphere, Russia is building a $2-billion North-South gas pipeline project in Pakistan, running from Karachi to Lahore.

Russia has been smelling a rat as the US grand strategy of Indo-Pacific, in which India’s role is central and foremost given its location and economic clout, would keep China and Russia under check. Pakistan’s economy is behind the eight ball and went belly up even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, it has been looking for reliable partners in economic and geopolitical spheres. The lovey-dovey relationship between China and Pakistan is going to strengthen further given the recent fracas over the geographical dispute between New Delhi and Beijing.

Increasing Russia’s Role

Although there is some sort of congeniality between Russia and China, Moscow is not as blind as a bat to recognise the hegemonic aspirations of rambunctious Beijing. Especially, China is extending its hold over Central Asia, a region Russia views as its backyard, through its China-Central Asia-West Asia corridor (CCAWEC) project, a subset of Belt, Road Initiative (BRI). Moscow is dead set against the Chinese ascendancy in Central Asia. Russia is aware of the fact that kowtowing to China would prove detrimental to its interests in the longer run. So it has been trying to reassert its superpower position, as exercised during the Cold War era, shedding its namby-pamby outlook.

Amidst the wave of neo-Russophobia swirling across Europe, thanks to Donbass war and the other aggression campaigns, Russia could get a few partners on its side. Russia is engaging with European bigwigs like Germany by using its energy diplomacy. Nord Stream-II, a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, was completed despite US resentment.

As a result of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy blunders and sophomoric attitude, the trans-Atlantic ties have damaged beyond repair. The pandemonium in Europe provides enough room for Russia to reinvigorate its engagement with member nations. In addition, Russia is also trying to bring ebullience in its ties with African nations. In 2019, it hosted the Africa-Russia summit, an attempt to reinforce and diversify its ties, which are largely confined to defence and security arrangements. Moscow has been exploring new areas of cooperation like energy and mining with African club, a major voting bloc in the UN. Russia has signed security pacts with over 30 African countries. In the past, given the dire state of affairs in Africa, Russia wrote off debts estimated around $20 billion of these African nations as an act of solidarity and pragmatism.

In the midst of the new cold war between the US and China, middle powers are finding it too hard to reorient themselves. Trump’s untoward dealings and insensitivity towards European allies have provided enough room for Russia to wipe the slate clean and engage more actively with its western neighbours.

All things considered, Kremlinologists believe that to checkmate the cantankerous US and hawkish China, it is necessary to walk arm in arm with India. Russia views India as an indispensable and principal player in the forthcoming Non-Aligned Movement 2.0.

Hindi-Rusi Bhai Bhai

New Delhi is aware of the fact that growing amiability between one-time hostile neighbours, China and Russia on one hand, and the convergence of interests between Moscow and Islamabad on the other, would pose a serious challenge to its interests. If New Delhi wants Pakistan’s head on a platter, India has to strike while the iron is hot by bringing Russia to its side. Apart from defence tie-ups, which are well-established, the duo has the potential to explore and collaborate in areas on which both sides have turned a blind eye.

To fill the void in the economic domain, both sides have been eyeing to finalise the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between India and the EAEU. The EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) is a free trade zone arrangement among Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. Russia, a kingpin in the EAEU, has been looking for a trusted partner like India to improve the prospects of this nascent arrangement. Time has come to recollect the heydays of Indo-Soviet partnership and expand the scope of friendship by exploring untapped avenues.

(The author is Director of Samudrala VK IAS Academy)


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