Samir Saran, ORF President spoke to Russian newspaper Izvestia on the sidelines of Valdai Club, on the importance of India-Russia cooperation, prospects of SCO and Russia’s place in Asia.
By Samir Saran
Izvestia: India has been one of just few countries that’s managed to buy Russian weapons and avoid US sanctions. Nevertheless, anti-Russian sanctions sometimes serve as discouraging factor in Russian economic ties with other countries including China. Will India succeed in balancing between US and Russia, or the threat of sanctions will leave its mark on Russia- India cooperation?
Samir Saran: The sanctions on Russia are unilateral sanctions outside the UN system. While I do not speak for the government, India is unlikely to allow such sanctions to hurt its core relationships and objectives. Russia is India’s most important partner and US approach to Russia will not determine India’s engagement with Moscow. Our defence partnership and business relationships are vital and India will strive hard to ensure that these grow and strengthen. The US understands India’s views and concerns. The past year has seen the defence partnership with Russia grow stronger and I am confident that this will be the case in the future as well.
Izv: About two years ago India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. So far, has the country felt any bonuses from participating in this organisation? Did membership in this club change anything for India?
SS: In my view these are early days for India at this club. India is currently settling in and is still finding its way about. The SCO if reimagined and designed can potentially have an important role to play in the Asian Century. It can be a group with Russia – India – China (RIC) at its core, from which contours of a political union in Asia can emerge. This will require major efforts and India will need to partner with Russia to make this happen. While the current impact of this membership is minimal, the potential of SCO to contribute to the future growth and stability of the region and continent (if developed appropriately) is immense.
Izv: In one of the interviews you suggested that the two crucial powers defining the future Asian Order are China and India. Though, to be sustainable the Asian order would need more players, including Russia. What role can Russia play in the region and in Asia? And from an Indian perspective where does Russia belong, East to the West?
SS: India sees Russia as a Eurasian power that straddles Europe and Asia. India also appreciates Russia’s role in the Asian continent and its leadership of the Asian century. An Asian order will be incomplete and impossible without a central role of and for Russia. Without doubt Moscow understands geopolitics and strategy better than most in the world and it is the single most decisive actor in that sense. Russia has to reconcile with its Asian identity and embrace the continent more robustly. There are signs that this is happening.
Izv: India, just like Russia has been a supporter of a multipolar world. In the this context, is the US push for the quadrilateral alliance comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US an attempt to disrupt this multipolar order? Beyond the general talk about the need for the largest democracies to unite, does the Quad have any substance?
SS: The Quad is an outcome of a multipolar world, where many countries and creating multiple coalitions that serve specific purpose and interests. The Quad is not incompatible with any other plurilateral or multilateral arrangement nor with the idea of dispersed power centres collaborating on specific issues. Quad is in its infancy and will require more political investments from the four capitals if it is to be a significant institution.
Izv: This week India will be preoccupied with the Parliamentary elections with outcome being far from predetermined. Can we say that Russia is an weather friend and partner for India regardless of which party will be in power? Or there are some nuances?
SS: Yes – A strong Russian relationship is a multi-party consensus. And irrespective of which party assumes power in India, the bilateral will continue to receive highest consideration.
This interview originally appeared in Izvestia