If there is anything more that the impressive list of MoUs and agreements signed between India and Russia at their annual summit meeting could do, it is to put to rest that rather overdone debate in the strategic circles on the Russia-Pakistan bonding and the Russia-Pakistan-China axis. The 17th India-Russia annual summit was held on October 15 at Goa on the sidelines of the BRICS meet.
India and Russia concluded a number of defence deals, including purchase of S-400 missile systems, frigates and joint production of helicopters besides deciding to deepen cooperation in a range of crucial sectors like trade and investment, hydrocarbons, nuclear power, cyber-security, space and smart cities. There was even a pledge to fight the menace of terrorism together.
The width and depth of the agreements arrived at Goa dispel any wisps of doubts on the long term outlook of India-Russia strategic partnership. The fact that these were signed when the Chinese President Xi Jinping was in town should also lay to rest the suggestion that movement in Russia-Pakistan relations was being driven by China and part of a likely Russia-Pakistan-China cooperation axis.
The issue of Russia-Pakistan relations has been contextualised against the state of bilateral relations between Russia, US, China and India and Russia’s decision to offer Su-35 military aircraft and Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan. Russia-Pakistan relations became a further topic of debate post the cross-border Uri terror attack. This despite the fact Russia moved the exercises out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, coincided them with India-Russia military exercises being conducted in Russia and that India went ahead with its retaliatory the “surgical strikes” even while Russian troops were present in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan. The first joint military exercise between Pakistan and Russian military commenced on September 27 and concluded on October 10. The joint military exercise was seen as another step in growing military-to-military cooperation between the two countries.
The subject of the Russia-Pakistan military exercise was again raised prior to the annual bilateral summit by India’s Ambassador Pankaj Saran in an interview when he remarked that military cooperation with Pakistan “is a wrong approach and it will only create further problems.” This was possibly prompted by a feeling in the Indian foreign establishment that the military exercise had served to relieve the pressure that India was bring to bear on the international community to “isolate” Pakistan. Probably, an unfounded notion as 16 nations, including Sri Lanka, are set to participate in the six-day ‘Physical Agility and Combat Efficiency System’ military exercises in Pakistan next week.
India-Russia relations may not be cast in iron or taste sweet as honey but they are on rock-solid foundations and have evolved from the zero-sum with-me-or-against-me paradigm of the Cold War days to a more pragmatic pursuit of national interests.
The bear-hug at Goa should see India progressing one of its most enduring and significant strategic partnerships in a more sure-footed fashion.
*Monish Gulati is Associate Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. This article appeared at South Asia Monitor.