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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016

India - Russia Relations Revisited

Rebuilding Old Ties in the Era of Multipolar Linkages and Dependency

Monday 7 November 2016

by Sheel Bhadra Kumar

With the passage of the last two centuries, we have witnessed major paradigm shifts in the nature of international politics. Before World War I broke out, world politics was multipolar but dominated by the European powers which had basically divided the whole world among themselves. They used to quarrel among themselves for the spread of their colonies and influence. The game of international politics was played by those powers which competed among themselves for global hegemony and dominance. These colonial powers—Great Britain, France, Spain, The Netherlands and Portugal—played the international game among themselves. The major continents of Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia were colonies of the European powers. Therefore their voice was unheard and they were non-represented at international forums and summits.

The beginning of the First World War (1914-18) and Second World War (1939-45) changed world politics and the international scene com-pletely. The dominance of the European powers eclipsed. The two superpowers of different ideologies, the US and Soviet Union, replaced the European powers. The conventional warfare was also replaced by modern, technical war with nuclear capability that both superpowers possessed. The decolonised Afro-Asian and South American states were liberated and thus new players on the international scene emerged and they started demonstrating their presence by new issues and concerns like global equality, human rights, gender issues, environmental issues, North-South dialogue etc.

With the emergence of bipolarity, there emerged the Cold War which was less vicious than the previously fought hot wars. This Cold War was manifested by ideological hatred, political distrust, military competition and military alliances and counter-alliances, espionage, psychological warfare and diplomatic manoeu-vrings.

An international political commentator Fleming, in his book, The Cold War and Its Origins, said: “The objective of a cold war is to isolate enemies and win friends.” M.S. Rajan in Road to Detente: A Synoptic View stated that “the cold war was the combined result of a power struggle, of a conflict of ideologies, of a class of ways of life and thinking and national interests, the proportions of which varied from time-to-time, each feeding and reinforcing the others”. Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly stated: “The cold war was merely a new manifestation of the old balance of power idea.” The Cold War, which was intense and periodically less intense or subdued, was the most enigmatic and elusive international conflict of modern times.

The Cold War ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. And again multipolarity emerged on the international scene which persists till date. This multipolarity is manifested by interdependence, compromises and pressures. Countries across the spectrum are building multiple new alliances. This multipolarity is represented by linkages and dependencies. It has become highly complex and intractable that demand enough wisdom, proper handling of relationships and forward-looking diplomacy.

In this ever-changing scenario, we shall look into the dynamics of India-Russia relations. Since independence, the India-Russia relationship streng-thened and matured despite the changes of political leaderships in the two countries. A time-tested partnership flourished. The economic, technical, military, political, diplomatic, cultural and state-to-state relationship strengthened. But we know that nothing is permanent in international politics and relationships. Only our national interests are supreme and permanent.

Is there a shift in Russia’s geo-strategy and linkage with China that is impacting its relationship with India? Have India’s own foreign policy shifts and new relationships set off a reaction in Russia? The Russia-Pakistan joint military exercises in Gilgit-Baltistan area raises more questions than answers.

Russia under the bold leadership of President Vladimir Putin has started begun asserting in international affairs with renewed vigour and elan.

1. Russia retook the province of Crimea that it had gifted to Ukraine in 1954.

2. It has taken a clear position of opposing Western intervention and militarist regime-change policies in Libya, Iraq and now Syria. It has used counter-force in the fight against the Islamic State in backing Syrian President Basher-al-Assad, one of its surviving allies in West Asia.

3. Russia and China have become strategic partners and they have significant convergence of interests.

4. Russia is dependent on arms and energy exports and is constantly looking for new markets.

India and Russia have cooperated with each other and their national interests converge. India has supported Russia’s stands and positions on international issues. India has supported Russia on issues like Syria, Ukraine and Chechnya.

Russia has also backed India on Kashmir and terrorism. India and Russia continue with their deep collaborations, Russia providing sensitive technologies, military equipment, nuclear power-propelled submarines etc. to India.

But India’s tilt towards the US has changed many things. India as an emerging power has developed a strategic partnership with the US. There has come a viable shift in India’s arms equipments procurement policy. It is the area where Russia dominated for years in the Indian market. But for some time, India has opened up to the US, France, Israel and other Western powers to procure arms and armaments. They are edging out the Russians in some sectors. Russia-India trade has not grown to great heights.

Though we see China-Russia relations getting a new fillip, China has its own designs and objectives. Russia, China and US relationships have become highly complex. China aggressively wants to enlarge its national interests, whether through collaboration or confrontation.

The US is trying to contain China. One of the manifestations of this is seen in the South China Sea. China is trying to establish its hegemony in the South China sea. But there is a conflict of interests between the South-East Asian nations and China.

While on one side we find a relationship of confrontation between China and the US, but on the other side we see a definite collaboration between these big powers for international financial domination. China has got its yuan accepted as the world currency by the IMF and the New York branch of the Bank of China. The Bank of China has been designated as the clearing house for the Chinese official currency. China is leveraging its economy and relationship to build hegemony with the US.

Russia is well acquainted with this develop-ment. But it has its limitations. Its economic muscle has become weak over the years. China is dominating Russian markets. It is exploiting Russian resources. China is enticing countries, along with Russia, with its One Belt, One Road plan. China is backing and supporting Pakistan militarily, economically and diplomatically. It has its own objectives in Pakistan. It is using Pakistan for its trade route and linkage to West Asia. Pakistan is a satellite state of China. Russia has its security concerns but China is not backing it. Russia has also concerns about its role in Central Asia versus China and Pakistan.

In this situation, India has to revive its common concerns with Russia. The two countries should try to revitalise their earlier agreements on sharing intelligence for a joint strategy on terrorism. India is concerned with the state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan and Russia is concerned with growing terrorism in West Asia and Central Asia.

Russia and India have common positions and concerns in Afghanistan. India’s surgical strike against terrorist groups in PoK has attracted sympathy and support from Russia. Thus, terrorism is a common issue of concern between India and Russia; this can be a bonding issue and bring about some positive outcome.

India has signed a logistics agreement with the US enabling joint military exercises between the two countries. Can India not conclude an agreement with Russia like the US-India accord?

India and Russia are in need of continuous engagement and follow-up plans. Joint manufac-turing needs to be planned. Joint investment in oil and gas sector should be renewed. Export to third countries needs to be energised. The two time-tested allies need to further deepen their scientific, technological, military and economic relations. A base for this already exists.

India and Russia are engaged in several multilateral efforts. The two countries are members of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. In Paris, the two countries had an engagement and meeting on climate issues. Such types of meetings provide ample opportunities to the two sides to broaden their engagement. Russia has proposed a Russia-India-China forum. India has reservations due to its differences with China. But India can sort out its differences with China only by engaging China bilaterally and multilaterally. China’s historic tilt towards the US in 1972 was possible only by talks and engagements. China and Russia, which were rivals once, sorted out their contradictions by solving their differences only through engagements, compromises, talks with one another. By the use of interdependency and pressure-compromises, India can leverage its interests to isolate Pakistan.

But this is not an easy task. The US will always have a dual approach to India and Pakistan because it needs both. Pakistan’s promixity to West Asia makes it impossible for the US to eject it from its geo-political global strategy.

The Russian foreign policy appears to be shifting strategically. But it is is acquainted with the fact that India is still its most reliable ally. It has no conflict of interests with India. India has been instrumental in developing a multipolar international system which benefited India, Russia and China alike. To retain this India and Russia need to be active, strategic and economic allies. But both sides will have to make sincere efforts in this regard.

India needs to move on in the international system on the basis of democracy, non-militarism, rule of law and human rights. This will give it an edge in the international system. India needs to deepen multilaterism, build common norms, oppose militarist interventions and focus on issues confronting the globe. The BRICS Summit held in Goa gave India an opportunity to prioritise its foreign policies and concerns in presence of the other strong members of the BRICS (that is, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa).

Dr Sheel Bhadra Kumar is an Associate Professor of Political Science posted at the Government MVPG College, Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh. He can be contacted at sheelbhadra24[at]

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