The visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to India slated from 31 Oct to 01 Nov 2012 has been deferred to December 2012.Unresolved internal policy issues in the nuclear energy and telecom sector are indicated to be the reason. Significant developments in the Indo-Russian ties are expected in the coming days. The hype around the visit had been raised a few notches by trips, earlier this month, of the Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
Besides the bilateral issues, current geopolitical developments are likely to influence the proceedings of the Russian President’s visit. First, is the continued turbulence in the US-Russia relations; second, the Afghanistan situation, present and post -2014; third, the new found warmth in the Russia-Pak relations and finally the ‘China factor’.
After becoming the US President in 2008, Obama initiated a “reset” in US-Russia relations with the support of the then-Russian president Medvedev. But analysts say that the reset has not been forceful enough to change the foundation of bilateral relations and in the future too they also do not expect to come out of it, despite President Putin’s recent assertion to persevere with the “reset” policy.
The disappointing outcomes of the ‘reset’ policy can attributed to the fact that it came with the caveat that US will not abandon its fundamental position on issues such as not recognizing a Russian sphere of influence, maintaining an open-door policy for NATO membership, and prioritizing human rights and democracy. Strategic analyst David J. Kramer said in 2010 that, four issues are likely to dominate the US-Russia relationship in the foreseeable future; US policy toward Russia’s neighbors, missile defense, strategic challenges such as Iran, and developments inside Russia.
On the U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe, Russia is pushing for guaranties that it will not be aimed against Russia’s nuclear facilities. The closing down of USAID’s operations in Russia last month has been new irritant. Senior Russian officials viewed some of USAID programmes such as support for the election watchdog ‘GOLOS’, which has been cataloging electoral violations in local and federal elections, and human rights groups critical of the Kremlin, as interference in its internal affairs and an attempt to undermine Russia’s sovereignty.
While the US-Russia relationship, predictably, has run into points of discord on Iran and Syria, missile defense ect, what is worrisome is probably the fact that the ‘sticky’ list now contains areas such as Afghanistan and Nunn-Lugar Program where the two countries have been cooperating till recently.
Nunn-Lugar Programme or Cooperative Threat Reduction functions under the legislation introduced by US Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar to aid Russia in dismantling its nuclear arsenal after the end of the Cold War. The program enacted in 1991 has been extended twice, in 1999 and 2006. To date, the Nunn-Lugar program has reduced nuclear arsenals in Russia from 30,000 in 1991 to about 12,000 warheads today. Russia is now unwilling to extend the Nunn-Lugar Programme beyond its present validity period of May 2013 as it is fears that the United States receives too much “sensitive information” about the Russian arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
The US-Russia relations are in a downward spiral. India has recently stepped back from the proposed US strategic pivot in Asia asserting its right to strategic autonomy. This stand and the state of the US-Russia relations will restrict the geo-political space India will be willing to share with Russia.
Despite the chill at the Global level, Russia and the US had managed to find common ground on the Afghanistan campaign. In particular the Russian support to the ISAF logistics by allowing crucial and largely unconditional, land and air transit through its territory. The current mission of the NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan has been endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. But post-2014, the ISAF mission will undergo a change and will only be a training and advisory mission, which according to some (including Russia), should necessitate a fresh UN mandate. Russia has said that after 2014 it will stop cooperating with NATO over Afghanistan unless the alliance gets U.N. Security Council’s authorisation for its new training mission in Afghanistan. Nikolay Korchunov, Russia’s acting ambassador to NATO was explicit that “It is a pre-condition both for carrying on the operation and for our cooperation with NATO on that issue post-2014”.
Besides the UN mandate there is the issue of Russian arm sales to Afghanistan which are financed by US aid. U.S-Russian cooperation on arms for Afghanistan started in 2011. The US has so far purchased 33 new Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan National Army for $640 million. The Mi-17 acquisition effort is critical to building the capacity of Afghanistan security forces. However, in July this year, with a 407-5 vote, the US House of Representatives passed a version of the defense spending bill which would prohibit the U.S. government from entering into arms deals with the Russians.
The Russian imperative to put a lid on terrorism and narcotics flowing out of Afghanistan forms the basis of its interest in Pakistan; quite different from what Pakistan would like to believe. Russia needs Pakistan to use all its influence to stabilize Afghanistan; as early as possible and definitely after 2014.
The first visit by a Russian Head of State to Pakistan in last 33 years was not to be after President Putin cancelled his trip to the country. Pakistan has recovered from the loss of the event after the visit by the Russian Foreign Minister followed by the visit of Gen Kayani to Moscow. As an analyst remarked, ‘at present Russia-Pak relations are high on optics and low on substance’. However there is a subtle message for India in the seemingly ungainly Russia-Pak dealings, which maybe less of a warning and more of a reminder of good old times and how friends are those who standby each other in times of need.
If there something that India need to worry is the Russian position in case of an India China standoff, especially considering how well Russia and China been getting along on both global and regional issues. It is more relevant because of the synergy amongst the two on regional issues especially within the framework of SCO which looks poised to assume leadership role in the Af-Pak region as the US presence reduces. Also with Russian-Iran relations being in good state, Russia feels it will have a better chance to influence Afghanistan with the support of China dominated SCO .
Mr Rogozin’s trip to India this month was his second in 2012 and on the subject of Russian arms sales to Pakistan he sought to underscore the then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin famous “Russia will not sell Pakistan a single bullet” comment, with his “spit in the face’’ remark. It reflects the Russian intensity and expectations regarding its partnership with India.
This article appeared at CLAWS, and is reprinted with permission.