Russia Remains India’s Trusted Ally Despite China
Earlier, on forming the NDA government, PM Modi and his Cabinet had extended a hand of friendship and cooperation to China. However as usual, China took it as a sign of weakness.
After failure to brow beat India on Arunachal and backing down at Dokalam and Maldives, China decided to bare its fang once again at Galwan in Ladakh. It did bite but in the bargain has lost a tooth. So now the Chinese PLA is in a blind rage.
To neutralise this threat from the Chinese ogre, India has started strengthening its military and defence infrastructure in Ladakh at a rapid pace. Though it needs to keep all its options open and deploy all the tools it can wield effectively. In this process of checks and balances, all allies like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, SriLanka, France, Israel, Russia, Japan, USA and Australia by its side are an invaluable asset.
Amidst the India China stand off in Ladakh, though military- and diplomatic-level talks are going on, both sides are having highly-armed, tense posture on the ground. There is demand in India for a scrutiny of India’s foreign policy.
In view of the rapidly changing geopolitical environment, with China aggressively claiming its hegemony across several Asian fronts, many are of the view that India should move closer to the US. These people feel that Russia, one of India’s traditional allies, is in a strategic embrace with China and hence not reliable any more.
Russia has been India’s steadfast against a superpower’s meddling or an opportunistic attack by a neighbour during a crisis—the Indo-Soviet treaty of August 1971 is a testimony to that. Through the years, even with improved relations the US would typically keep up a tactical silence, while Russia always voiced proclamations of support. In 2920 the reverse has happened. Why?
After Galwan, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, blasted the Chinese moves in Ladakh as “rogue action” and fully blamed China for aggressive intrusion across the LCA. In glaring contrast, Russia has been cautious, calling both countries to resolve the crisis using “dedicated specific mechanisms and tools….”. While most Indians welcomed Pompeo’s tough talk, they found it a bit difficult to fathom Russia’s sober, anodyne statement.
It is not surprising at all. India has done it many a times to keep a balance in separate bilateral ties with two different countries eg USA and Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia etc. Moscow has good relations with both India and China. It is important for them to do so because they have tense relationship with USA and most of Western Europe.
Thus Moscow has to walk the middle path in its ties with both India and China. Russia has growing political and economic relations with China as they stand in unison against Western Countries.
“We are not in the business of balancing India-China ties,” Roman Babushkin, deputy head of mission in the Russian embassy in Delhi, says pointedly. “We have special but independent strategic relations with both India and China. We are not interfering in their bilateral ties…we want India and China to work towards de-escalation of the crisis,” Babushkin explains.
Much of the deep strategic, economic and cultural bonds between the two nations endure—Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s attendance of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the V-Day parade in Moscow was symbolic of those ties, considering most Western powers gave it a miss.
Rajnath is certain to have discussed the situation on the border, but not much is known of the Russian leadership’s reaction. Unlike US President Donald Trump who, as is his wont, offered to mediate, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said India and China need no help in resolving their differences.
One of the main planks of India’s foreign policy has been the close ties with Russia. It survived the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Yet in the last decade and more, both countries adjusted to a changing world order. While Moscow has improved its relationship with once adversarial China, India’s relations with the US also improved dramatically.
“India has global interests across the world and relations with US is certainly growing…. There are millions of Indians in the US, working, studying and settling there. In that way they are natural partners. And for dev¬elopment and trade, India will look to all countries. This is no issue with Russia,” Babushkin points out.
once, both Russia and China were rivals but geopolitics have made them strongest partner today thanks to reactions from the US and EU to Crimean Crisis in 2014 and the war with Ukraine. Moscow has taken action to ensure its security as it was alarmed at NATO’s expansion into Ukraine.
The resulting sanctions, coming at the time of falling global energy prices, forced cash-strapped Russia to move towards China. President Putin signed in to Xi Jinping’s ambitious belt and road initiative (BRI), which was heavily opposed by New Delhi. At that time even USA was not opposed to the BRI. Though India was sure that the BRI and China’s maritime silk route was a means of asserting China’s political might for attaining world supremacy.
Though Russia is not a Super Power it once was as Soviet Union, Putin has ensured that continues to be a global strategic player. Whether it is the war in Syria or the fight against ISIS, Russia has protected its self-interest, against the West.
Russia needs China but does not play any subservient role. Russia supported the call for an enquiry into how the infection started in Wuhan. Where as in 1972 when it had suited the USA, its President Richard Nixon visited Mao Zedong in Peking and resumed ties with China. Ironically, that has now led to China becoming a global power today.
So it should be clear that neither Moscow nor New Delhi would want to weaken this relationship that has yielded massive dividends in the past and has bright future. The two countries have few bilateral discords, with ties dependent on governmental cooperation, with little private sector involvement.
The political equation and trust between the two countries are exemplary too. There is a convergence on global issues, coupled with Indian dependence on Russian technology—from help in setting up India’s nuclear power plants to supplying a large part of Indian military hardware.
As India’s strategic partner, Russia had refused to sell defence equipment to Pakistan in the past. However, just as India now sources materiel from the US, Israel and others, so has Moscow opened up to Islamabad, selling it arms and holding military exercises with it.
Both countries realise that they gain strategic depth by continuing to nurture ties with others. In spite of anti-China ‘Quadrilateral Alli¬ance’ amongst US, Japan, Australia and India a possibility in the Indo-Paci¬fic, PM Modi went for Russia’s S400 air defence system despite tremendous pressure from the US to forego it. Strategic autonomy, therefore, remains important. For Russia, too, the India-option will give it more room to mano¬e¬u¬vre.