Russia-India changing relationship: time to reboot

Latest bi-lateral upswing

This year- 2017- Russia and India are celebrating their 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations. Both countries are organizing host of cultural programmes, film festivals and exchange visits among top officials to commemorate this historic event. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the September 2017 BRICS summit held in Xiamen city, China. The two premiers discussed several aspects of the bilateral relationship, including cooperation in oil and natural gas sector. Back in June this year, Modi made an official state visit to Russia in which it was agreed, among other things, the two nations will build an “Energy Bridge” to expand the scope of bilateral relations in all areas of energy—nuclear, hydrocarbon, hydel and renewable energy sources and in improving energy efficiency.

The Russia-India friendship has always drawn overwhelming international media, precisely Western media, attention for the latter had a special relationship with the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Even today, most political and strategic experts from India proclaim Russia-India relationship is nothing less than a ‘strategic alliance’. Similarly, a considerable number of scholars and experts from Russia advocate the same line of thinking; however, this does not apply to the Putin administration during his ongoing presidential tenure. Russia, at present, is taking up a realist foreign policy stance to steadfastly regain its super-power status on the world-stage, least within Eurasia.

Today a big question is: whether the Russia-India strategic alliance exists in reality? If so, how endurable it is to unprecedented geopolitical shocks?

Russia regaining its superpower position in Eurasia

Russia under Putin 2.0 is enthusiastically trying to re-establish its influence across Eurasia and even beyond. The strategically visionary and determined leadership of Putin is enabling Russia to win back support of weak national governments, most of which are struggling to fight terrorism within their respective territories. Russia, at this juncture, is not dithering to ‘war-test’ the durability of its latest military advancements, including high-end technologies and armaments. It is doing so either by selling that to its political allies or participating in ongoing wars on-behalf of its allies. This is seen in Syria where Russia is both selling ammunitions to the Assad regime under its existing contracts and also militarily participating on the side of Assad against ISIS. Russia is pursuing this strategy to consolidate its military-industrial complex and shore-up its national coffers that has bear the brunt of dipping global oil price in recent years.

Last but not least, Russia is making new military-strategic partnerships, like with Pakistan and Iran, to adapt to an emerging reality of diminishing political-military influence of the US across the Greater Eurasia.

India coming out of its shell

India, which has steadily rose to power starting from 1990s onward, is even today a regional power within South Asia. No doubt, its economic standing has considerably grown at the global level in recent years, but it has failed to translate that into military-strategic might on the world stage. The country has been trying to address an array of domestic problems, including widespread poverty and population explosion, with limited success. This has drained much of its resources, which otherwise could have been put at disposal for expanding its sway outside of its national boundaries.

However, India under the prudent leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who heads a nationalist political party, i.e., Bharatiya Janata Party, is successfully making new business partnerships around the world, both with institutional investors and multinational private companies. Further, the country is trying to assert its military power within South Asia, as seen in the recent weeks-long standoff at Doklam where India prevailed over China. It is now slowly but cautiously trying to come out of its traditional role of a ‘silent spectator’ and deliberate upon issues of global concern, including rise of Islamic terrorism in near and far away areas from its territories.

Proposed scheme for Russia-India reconciliation

Today challenger states, like China and Iran, and non-states, like Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its likes, are posing a mounting challenge to bring down the US’s global hegemony. Already we have a world order that is no more unipolar, rather truly multipolar. Hence, there is a growing need for Russia and India to adapt to this new reality to effectively tackle varying kinds of challenges, such as political re-alignment among nations, hyper-nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

Following few propositions are listed that both countries need to take up to rebuild their partnership in this emerging era of the Post-American World.

  • Indian policymakers need to come out of the Soviet hangover and understand that today’s Russia is greatly different, i.e., more practical with its foreign policy affairs, as compared to its predecessor state.

  • India needs to establish independent foreign policy engagements with post-Soviet countries, like Ukraine and Georgia, without any fear of injuring its relationship with Russia.

  • Russia needs to treat India as an equal and important strategic partner in Eurasia for the obvious reason that India’s stature as global power is steadfastly rising under current Modi government.

  • Russia and India need to expand their scope of their bi-lateral engagements beyond arms sale and purchase. They need to actively cooperate in new financial and services sectors, like banking, clean energy, start-ups, and so on.

Russia-India friendship has stood the test of time. However, at present both countries need to urgently reboot their relationship in order not to find themselves in opposite political camps.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

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