By Dr Bawa Singh*
Realist theorists like Hans Morgenthau hold that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or foes but always national interests. It will remain very interesting to see the changing Russian foreign policy towards India through the characteristics of the bear which is generally used to symbolise Russia.
The bear has often been revered in the cultures of many countries. It is defined and seen as a symbol of power, strength and love. With its power and strength, it can overpower other animals very easily. The third important character is love. When the question comes of its love affair, the bear usually becomes very selective. Against this backdrop, Russia’s selective love affairs have been becoming a bugbear for Indian foreign policy.
During the last 70 years, India-Russia relations have traditionally remained very cordial and cozy. The strategic partnership between both the countries covered a wide array of co-operation such as politics, economic, defence, anti-terrorism, civil nuclear energy, and space.
The main foundation of India-Russia relations was defence cooperation. The joint production is very exhaustive covering BrahMos cruise missile, 5th generation fighter jet, Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Tactical Transport Aircraft and imports/lease of military hardware S-400 Triumf 12; Kamov Ka-226; T-90S; Akula-II nuclear submarine; Aircraft Carrier- INS Vikramaditya; Tu-22M3; MiG-29; Mil Mi-17 etc.
India has been importing more than 70 per cent of its military hardware requirement from Russia. However, currently Russia has been replaced by the US.
Russia has remained a strong strategic partner and supported India in critical times such as the Kashmir crisis, liberation of Goa, India-Pakistan Wars, vetoed sanctions (nuclear explosion of 1998) etc. Russia has consistently followed an India-favourable Kashmir policy.
It has always stood by India on the issue of terrorism. In addition to this, nuclear energy, space, science and technology under the Integrated Long-Term Programme of Co-operation (ILTP), terrorism and nuclear cooperation are some other fortes of the bilateral relations.
Realising its multilateral interests in the Eurasian region, Russia has engaged India in the multi-modal connectivity project, International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) signed in 2000. The main argument is that Russia has remained a strategic partner, even at the cost of some other allies.
However, with the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the cordiality trajectory between both the countries has started moving in the downward direction.
A new geopolitical landscape has been unfolding in Eurasian politics. Due to its hostile relations with the Western world and paradigmatic shift in Indian foreign policy, Russia has been obligated to come closer to Pakistan. Now, both have become strong strategic partners.
Russia signed a ‘military cooperation’ agreement (November 20, 2014), which covered a wide array of cooperation. Under this agreement, both have also agreed to exchange information on common concerns such as politico-military, cooperation in the areas of defence, counter-terrorism and Afghanistan issue. In addition to this, joint exercises (Russian Army War Games 2015, Master of The Air Defence Battle Competition and Friendship 2016) and defence sales are some of the areas of cooperation between both the countries.
This strategic proximity between Russia and Pakistan is likely to open a Pandora’s box for Indian foreign policy.
The Russian support to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been taken very seriously by the Indian strategic commentators. Along with strong support to the China-funded CPEC project, Russia has made its intentions clear to connect it with the Eurasian Economic Union project.
Last week, Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Y. Dedov, in an exclusive interview to Pakistan Radio, said that Russia strongly supports the CPEC as it would be important for regional connectivity.
Terrorism has remained the common concern of both Russia and India. Theoretically, during the 16th Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Cooperation (October 26, 2016), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reiterated Russia’s support against the common enemy of terrorism. But seeing its practical moves, it has been moving against Indian interests.
During the BRICS Summit (2016), India raised the issue of terrorism and urged the members to impose a ban on the LeT and JeM, operating from Pakistan. However, this move on part of India was scuttled by both Russia and China.
Another major jolt that India experienced was during the ‘Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process,’ that took place in Amritsar (India) on December 3-4, 2016. This process was basically for reconstruction, peacemaking and peace-building in Afghanistan, in particular, and the neighbouring region in particular.
In this backdrop, it is but natural for Afghanistan and India to raise the issue of terrorism because both suffer from this scourge. Russia, rather than supporting the counter-terror move of both the countries, asked them not to use such forums for earning brownie points. It seems a major jolt not only for Indian foreign policy but also for peace and stability in the entire region.
There have also been reports – both in the electronic and print media — that Russia has been extending proximity with the Taliban.
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the interest of not only India but for the entire region and its peace and stability. The major goal of Indian foreign policy has been to curb terrorism — however, it could not find any support from its strategic partner Russia.
It is anticipated that the SCO will turn into SAARC, as both India and Pakistan will join the former in 2017. Eurasia has been holding very important place in Indian foreign policy because of energy security, trade, market and security. The main objectives of SCO are terrorism, separatism and fundamental and socio-economic cooperation. However, seeing the emerging uncooperative triumvirate of Russia, China and Pakistan in the Eurasian geopolitical landscape, SCO would prove a mirage for India.
The emerging strategic triumvirate of Russia, China and Pakistan (SCO members) has been bothering the Indian foreign policy-makers, though publically they are accepting the same. On part of China, substantial aid has been steadfastly moving to Pakistan’s military sector in terms of providing nuclearisation, weapons of sophisticated technology, co-production of weapons, economic corridor, ports, roads, railway etc.
Moreover, China-Pakistan cooperation has been posing a major strategic challenge not only regionally but globally as well. Also, the passing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through disputed territory in Kashmir is a major challenge for India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s raised this concern directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, the latter has shown scant regard to this issue. On the other hand, when the Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh, China took umbrage as it perceives it as disputed territory.
In the UN, China has used its veto power over the Indian resolution to ban the JeM and LeT, etc. Recently, strategic signals have been appearing from which it can be easily made out that China will change its Kashmir policy.
Russian policy towards India has been the by-product of bilateral and geopolitical dynamics, becoming a bugbear for Indian foreign policy. Russia has been turned from strategic partner to strange partner of India. On the other hand, it has become a strong strategic partner of Pakistan and punctured the myth of diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.
Defence and political relations between Russia and Pakistan have been growing exponentially covering defence, military hardware, support on the issue of terrorism, support to CPEC and its linking with Eurasian Economic Union. In this backdrop, it is highly recommended that India should maintain good relations with the neighbouring countries and regional powers over the extra-regional powers. In order to avoid any regional strategic alliance to emerge against it it should maintain a balance between the major powers.
*Dr. Bawa Singh teaches at the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]