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Article: Russia-India ties — growing asymmetry

Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

This ongoing irrefutable trajectory of the international relations, that there is no absolute fixation of friendship and animosity holds much sway because of the changing geopolitical, geo-strategic and geo-economical dynamics. And yet, the ongoing romantic American-Indian relationship is being cautiously judged by the Russian policymakers in Moscow. In the given context, the colossal unity between Russia and China on the one end; and the Kremlin’s strategic embrace of Pakistan on the other – all is tantamount to strengthening the perception that the relations between Russia and India have been adrift
Over the last two decades, the Moscow-New Delhi strategic partnership has undergone a major metamorphosis given India’s and Russia’s simultaneous interactions with China and the United States. The India-Russia bilateral relationship has a long history and a broad international context, amid the evolution from a unipolar order to a possible multipolar world order – re-structuring the nascent dynamics of today’s international relations. This brewing uncertainty is resulting in all major powers, including India and Russia, attempting to hedge and prepare for all possibilities. Given this international context, the changing India-Russia relationship is not only affecting bilateral ties in BRICS and SCO forums, but also India’s relationships with the United States, China, Afghanistan, and other countries.
Russian President Putin has been fostering new initiatives making a Eurasian trajectory in three key directions: more economic development in Russia’s Far Eastern regions, reviving ties with former Soviet republics through Eurasian integration, and forging a closer political alignment with China and East Asian countries. Obviously, New Delhi does not support this Eurasian expansion since it is against the American interests. Moreover, global competition means that much of the competition between the three great powers – the United States, China, and Russia – take place in shaping the behaviour of other countries and non-state actors through a complex mix of actions at both the civil and military levels. Russia is clearly seeking to develop its overall economy and the supporting elements of its civil society, to compete directly with the United States.
The first source of divergence between Indian and Russian interests lies in the continuing problems that Russia faces in its relations with the United States. Moscow does not feel comfortable with the Indian policy to safeguard the US interests both regionally and globally simply because this Indian policy negates the Russian pursuit of its influence clearly manifested by the description of Russian views highlights the underlying choices for U.S. policy. Russia opposes NATO’s eastward expansion accompanied by Washington’s support for sustaining U.S. leadership and expanding democracy and Western institutions in Eastern Europe.
The second source of Russian-Indian’s confrontation is that Moscow has increasingly leaned on China both for support as well as a way to undermine American power. The military relationship between the two has become increasingly close: in addition to conventional weapons, Russia is also helping China set up its missile early warning system, one of the most sensitive bits of technology for any nuclear power.
Neither Russia’s 2013 Foreign Policy Concept document, nor its 2015 National Security Strategy mention the Indian Ocean as a whole, but instead focus on specific regions in and around the region, such as South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps the best indication of a regional strategy can be found in the 2015 Maritime Doctrine, which identifies the Indian Ocean as one of six regional priority areas in the maritime domain (along with the Atlantic, Artic, Pacific, Caspian and Antarctic) , also Russia’s growing involvement in the region appears to be driven by an overall objective of securing a long-term niche presence in a strategically important and lucrative part of the world.
The third source of tension is the QUAD trajectory between Japan- America -Australia and India. Russia does not want the dominance of the QUAD in the Indian Ocean, nor will it ever encourage any Indian strategy—defending Washington’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, in Moscow’s view, the QUAD undermines Russian interests on several fronts .Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also suggested that the QUAD will inevitably harm Russia’s relationship with India. Moscow also has a natural aversion to exclusive security mechanisms, because of its vexed relationship with NATO.
While China is clearly the QUAD’s main target, there remains some sense within the Russian quarters that the QUAD also seeks to contain Russia. Amid Russian disquiet and the US pressure, India has tried to chart a middle path. While politely rebuffing Russia’s concerns over the QUAD, New Delhi has also doubled down on its pledge to buy S-400 missiles, a move that is being resisted by the Biden administration. In addition, fuelled by economic complementarities and concerns over a rising China, the two countries-Japan and India have taken important steps to build a Special Strategic and Global Partnership.
The fourth source of the divergence between Moscow and New Delhi is Russia’s gravitating approach towards Pakistan. Moscow seems to balance Russia’s interests proportionate to the strategic importance and economic advantage that each nation offers. Russian government believes that the Afghanistan issue cannot be resolved without the constructive interaction of Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan and Russia have the same views on the issue of US forces in Afghanistan.
Heuristically, what New Delhi wants from Moscow is a total strategic submission of the same sort that it demands from the South Asian states that it intends to exercise hegemony over. Actually, India has been losing patience with Russia’s increasingly independent reassertion of its regional interests, especially vis-a-vis its newfound military and economic relations with Pakistan, as well as China. These unfriendly signals exposed India’s ulterior motives of exploiting its partnership with Russia against those two.
Nevertheless, Moscow is looking at Pakistan with reference to its policy on Afghanistan and wider stability in Central Asia and the Caucasus – where differences have now emerged with New Delhi. Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special representative to Afghanistan, has gone on record to say that it would not be possible to eliminate terrorism “without the cooperation of Pakistan”. Pakistan is indeed a very important piece in the emerging geopolitical chessboard in Eurasia. In the same vein, the proposal of President Putin for a more extensive Eurasian partnership involving the EAEU and China, India, Pakistan, and Iran is a dynamic idea. Instead of promoting centrifugal tendencies, New Delhi must demonstrate a semblance of regional harmony and stability -an inevitable imperative of the present time.

The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher and international law analyst based in Pakistan

— Courtesy Daily Times

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