Indo-Russian relations under scrutiny as Moscow moves closer to China


Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping prepare to leave during the closing session of the BRICS summit at the Taj Exotica hotel in Goa on October 16, 2016. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

India’s relations with Russia remain strong as both sides seek to deepen their economic ties. But Moscow has also moved closer to Beijing since the invasion of Ukraine, raising serious national security concerns for New Delhi.

India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar recently said the country is ready to resume free trade talks with Russia.

“Our partnership is today the subject of attention and commentary, not because it has changed, but because it has not changed”, he saiddescribing the relationship as “among the most stable” in the world.

Russia also wants “intensify” free trade talks with India, Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov said during a visit to Delhi. Manturov is also Moscow’s trade minister.

Despite the display of economic cooperation, Indian leaders are “watching carefully” as Russia isolates itself and moves closer to the “corner of China”, said Harsh V. Pant, vice president of studies and research. foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. think tank based.

Russia’s “weak and vulnerable position” and its growing dependence on China for economic and strategic reasons will certainly be of concern for India, he told CNBC.

It becomes “more difficult with each passing day because of the closeness we are witnessing between Beijing and Moscow,” Pant noted. “The pressure on India is increasing, they certainly wouldn’t like that to happen.”

New Delhi will try as much as possible to avoid a potential “Russia-China alliance or axis”, Pant added. “As this will have far-reaching consequences and fundamentally alter India’s foreign policy and strategic calculus.”

There are reasons of national interest “why India continues to buy cheap Russian oil and trade with them, this FTA is one of them,” said Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs. from New Delhi.

But it looks like “this relationship is moving from a very valuable strategic partnership to a transactional one,” he noted, adding that “Moscow’s closer embrace of China” doesn’t bode well. for India’s national security needs.

India, which currently holds the G-20 presidency, has yet to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

A reliable partner?

In his last foreign policy doctrine published at the end of March, Russia indicated that it would “pursue the construction of a particularly privileged strategic partnership” with India.

New Delhi’s longstanding ties with Moscow date back to the Cold War. He’s staying heavily dependent on the Kremlin for his military equipment. This defense cooperation is vital given the Indian tensions along the Himalayan border with an increasingly assertive China, said ORF’s Pant.

But Russia was unable to deliver critical defense supplies he had signed up with the Indian army because of the war in Ukraine, which could strain the relationship, analysts said.

In March, indian armed forces acknowledged before a parliamentary committee that a “major delivery” from Russia “will not take place” in a report. “They told us in writing that they are unable to deliver it,” the IAF official said. The report did not mention delivery details.


“Russia has already delayed the delivery of the S-400 anti-missile delivery systems in India due to war pressures in Ukraine,” said Chaulia of the Jindal School. “So there is a big question mark about the reliability of Russia.

India’s reliance on Moscow, historically, was seen as essential “to help moderate China’s aggression”, he added, in order to maintain a stable balance of power against Beijing.

Now the country cannot expect Russia to play “the same strategic role for India as before the war in Ukraine. This is because of the technological degradation of its military position and the weakening as a result of the war,” he said.

Partnership “without limits”

Yet the Indian authorities will continue to make every “last-minute effort” to create “a little space”, in the Russian-Chinese dynamic, Pant added, “so that the space can be exploited by India to ensure that its influence over Moscow remains intact”. .”

But China is also taking steps to strengthen its ties with Russia. In March, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and the two leaders pledged to deepen their relationship.

The two parties sealed a partnership “without limits” in February last year – just before Russia invaded Ukraine – and agreed not to have any “prohibited” areas of cooperation.

Formal Putin-Xi talks underway as Russia and China seek to strengthen ties

A “Russian tilt” in favor of Beijing “would clearly be bad for India” if war broke out between the two nations, noted Felix K. Chang, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank.

Even without a war, “China’s warm relationship with Russia could encourage Beijing to pursue its interests more forcefully in South Asia, whether on its disputed Himalayan border or with India’s surrounding neighbors.” he wrote in April. “It too could shift the balance of power between China and India and lead to greater regional tensions.”

India must therefore “pick up the pace” in its embrace of the West, Chang added, “given how much the Russian-Ukrainian war has brought China and Russia closer together.”

Move to the United States

The West recognizes the challenge India faces in the Indo-Pacific region, ORF’s Pant said, “that it needs Moscow to manage Beijing in the short to medium term, given its relationship of defense with Russia”.

“This sensitivity is perhaps what is driving the West’s openness to India, despite differences over Ukraine,” he said, adding that national security concerns were bringing India closer to the UNITED STATES.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will join US President Joe Biden and his Australian and Japanese counterparts at the third Quad Leaders Summit in Sydney on May 24. The Quad is an informal security alignment of the four major democracies that was forged in response to China’s rise to power in the Indo-Pacific.

While America sees “China as the main challenger to America’s global primacy, it doesn’t see India that way,” said Rajan Menon, director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

“On the contrary, he sees India today as a partner to counterbalance China,” he noted.

The US-China decoupling stems from economic and security issues that

“This overlapping strategic interest explains why Washington has not reacted to India’s alignment with Moscow as it has to the ‘boundless’ friendship China has forged with Russia,” he said. Menon said.

As for Russia, how it balances this evolving dynamic between India and China will be its biggest test, Pant noted.

“It will be interesting to see how this triangle works. In the past, it worked because there was this uniform feeling among the three countries of talking about a multipolar world, where American unipolarity was the target,” said he noted.

“Today, for India, it is China’s attempt to create hegemony in the Indo-Pacific that is the target. For Russia and China, the priorities are different from those of India. “Pant added. “Russia’s ability to manage India and China will be under scrutiny,” regarding New Delhi.

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