September 24, 2022

Lukmaan IAS

A Blog for IAS Examination

THE CHINA FACTOR IN INDIA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

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THE CONTEXT: As the rise of China upends the existing order, the question of the impact of ongoing developments on the Indo-Russia relationship has gained increasing salience, especially as the US-China rivalry intensifies. These developments going to impact the future of India-Russia relations. In the present article, we will analyze the political, security, economic and strategic aspects of this phenomenon and opportunities and challenges for New Delhi and Moscow in evolving world order.

CHANGING INDIA- RUSSIA RELATIONS

  • The special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia, has, over the decades, stood out as a long-standing, time-tested relationship.
  • The two sides have built close political, strategic, defence, energy and investment ties which they continue to promote and nurture through bilateral and multilateral engagements.
  • But in the recent past, sustained rapprochement between Russia and China, even as India becomes increasingly wary of a more assertive China the dynamics have only become more complicated.
  • The state of their respective relations with the US introduces another level of complexity in this situation.
  • These external factors continue to exert pressure on both countries’ policy-making, including the ongoing debate over the Indo-Pacific and the nature of China’s rise.

THE COMPLEXITY IN INDIA- CHINA RELATIONS

  • Like two other important ambitious countries, the relations between India and China are in rivalry nature.
  • Both countries are focusing to save their interests in a globalized era and this creates complexity in relations.
  • As both are neighbored and have boundary disputes, so there is competition in international relations also.
  • Even in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, both have rivalry to expand their influences.
  • According to many, the complexity in India-Chain relations will continue in future.
  • A highly ambitious powerful China is not good news for India, that’s why India trying to develop good relations with like-minded countries for example the USA and Japan. The emergence of Quad is an example of this approach.

BUT CHINA FACTOR IS INFLUENCING INDIA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

  • The beginning of the 21st century brought new opportunities for the partnership, with India’s rising economic growth and Russia’s resurgence on the global stage.
  • Over the last two decades, the India-Russia strategic partnership has undergone a major transition given India’s and Russia’s simultaneous interactions with China and the United States.
  • The “common threat” factor revolving around the United States and China during the Cold War no longer exists for India and Russia today.
  • Modern-day India-U.S. relations and the Russia-China strategic partnership form a stumbling block for India-Russia relations given the emergence of great power rivalry between the United States and China.

WHY CHINA IS PLAYING A MAJOR ROLE IN INDIA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Divergent Foreign Policies on China

  • India and Russia exhibit divergent foreign policy strategies regarding China, with India focusing on multi-alignment and Russia on developing ties within Asia.
  • Keeping pace with the changing trends in international relations, India has consciously adopted a policy of multi-alignment with the objective of improving its regional and global profile.
  • For example, India’s active participation alongside Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), and the Quad is an outcome of its national interests.
  • Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign policy since the announcement of the “pivot to Asia” strategy in 2014 has reinforced its focus on the geopolitics and geo-economics of Asia.

Changing geopolitics in recent time

  • Expanding Russia-China strategic relations enable Russia to challenge the pre-eminence of the United States but have come at a cost for India.
  • The current defence cooperation between Russia and China is set to include cooperation in sensitive fields, such as strategic missile defence, hypersonic technology, and the construction of nuclear submarines.
  • India’s security dilemma is further captured in China’s burgeoning defence engagement with Russia, which has amplified the combat capability of the People’s Liberation Army; Russia has sold S-400 missile systems to both India and China.
  • India is aware that Russia will not renew its 1971 military assistance to India to counter China’s growth, as China is no longer the “common threat” it was during the Cold War.

Russia dependency on China

  • In addition to the defence sphere, Russia is dependent on China for power projection and financial investment to sustain its economic growth momentum.
  • Currently, Chinese-Russian trade is nearly $110 billion and China is a big shareholder in a number of large Russian energy and infrastructural projects.
  • Meanwhile, India-Russia trade is comparatively meagre, amounting to a mere $7.5 billion in 2019.
  • As China-Russia trade relations continue to dwarf those of India-Russia, likely into the near future, China seems to have more clout than India in manoeuvring its foreign policy interests with Russia.

U.S. Ties as a Counterbalance

Given Russia’s current ties with China, its regulated presence in Asian geopolitics and its limited role in the Indian Ocean region, India sees its current engagement with the United States as having more leverage in countering China’s assertive policies.

  • India has recently advanced its defence trade relationship and broader security partnership with the United States.
  • ·Currently, India’s defence deals with the United States stands at $20 billion alongside crucial defence and strategic agreements that include the troika of “foundational pacts” Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), alongside the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA).
  • Given growing defence engagement between the two countries, the United States designated India a Major Defense Partner in 2016 and elevated India to Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status in 2018, which provides India ease of access to military technologies Divergent Foreign Policies on China
  • India and Russia exhibit divergent foreign policy strategies regarding China, with India focusing on multi-alignment and Russia on developing ties within Asia.
  • Keeping pace with the changing trends in international relations, India has consciously adopted a policy of multi-alignment with the objective of improving its regional and global profile.
  • For example, India’s active participation alongside Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), and the Quad is an outcome of its national interests.
  • Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign policy since the announcement of the “pivot to Asia” strategy in 2014 has reinforced its focus on the geopolitics and geo-economics of Asia.
  • Changing geopolitics in recent times
  • Expanding Russia-China strategic relations enable Russia to challenge the pre-eminence of the United States but have come at a cost for India.
  • The current defence cooperation between Russia and China is set to include cooperation in sensitive fields, such as strategic missile defence, hypersonic technology, and the construction of nuclear submarines.
  • India’s security dilemma is further captured in China’s burgeoning defence engagement with Russia, which has amplified the combat capability of the People’s Liberation Army; Russia has sold S-400 missile systems to both India and China.
  • India is aware that Russia will not renew its 1971 military assistance to India to counter China’s growth, as China is no longer the “common threat” it was during the Cold War.
  • Russia dependency on China       In addition to the defence sphere, Russia is dependent on China for power projection and financial investment to sustain its economic growth momentum.
  • Currently, Chinese-Russian trade is nearly $110 billion and China is a big shareholder in a number of large Russian energy and infrastructural projects.
  • Meanwhile, India-Russia trade is comparatively meagre, amounting to a mere $7.5 billion in 2019.
  • As China-Russia trade relations continue to dwarf those of India-Russia, likely into the near future, China seems to have more clout than India in manoeuvring its foreign policy interests with Russia.
  • U.S. Ties as a Counterbalance     Given Russia’s current ties with China, its regulated presence in Asian geopolitics and its limited role in the Indian Ocean region, India sees its current engagement with the United States as having more leverage in countering China’s assertive policies.
  • India has recently advanced its defence trade relationship and broader security partnership with the United States.
  • Currently, India’s defence deals with the United States stands at $20 billion alongside crucial defence and strategic agreements that include the troika of “foundational pacts” Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), alongside the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA).
  • Given growing defence engagement between the two countries, the United States designated India a Major Defense Partner in 2016 and elevated India to Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status in 2018, which provides India ease of access to military technologies.
  • These close ties are perhaps a result of the United States sharing India’s concerns about China’s growing footprint in the Indian Ocean region.
  • China’s robust expansive economic initiatives—including through its Belt and Road Initiative and gaining access to military bases and strategic ports—have added to these concerns.
  • India’s strategy has expectedly involved strengthening U.S. ties to counterbalance Chinese influence.
  • These close ties are perhaps a result of the United States sharing India’s concerns about China’s growing footprint in the Indian Ocean region.
  • China’s robust expansive economic initiatives—including through its Belt and Road Initiative and gaining access to military bases and strategic ports—have added to these concerns.
  • India’s strategy has expectedly involved strengthening U.S. ties to counterbalance Chinese influence.


SHOULD INDIA FORGET RUSSIA IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES? AN ANALYSIS
 

A US-China Cold War could help deepen the US-India strategic partnership as both wish to counter China’s imperialism in Asia and there is an argument that in contemporary times India-Russia relations are not important like India-USA rations because India dependency on Russian weapons has been replaced with other options. In the waning days of the Obama administration, the United States designated India as a “major defence partner,” making it eligible to acquire a range of advanced and sensitive U.S. weapons technologies. The Trump administration has not made any moves to alter this status.  Apart from it, there are two most important development that happened in recent times when

  1. In December 2020 Russia criticized QUAD group as a “divisive” and “exclusivist” concept and suggested that India-Russia ties could be affected by it.
  2. China was not happy with the Russian arms supply to India.

This shows that the major factor of Indo-Russia Relations, which is armoury supply, is not an attractive package for both countries relations. So at this time, should India forget its relationship with Russia and focus to develop ties with the USA and other like-minded countries?

The answer is no, there are many reasons for saying No

  1. Significant player: Russia still is a significant player on the world scene and has been striving to reclaim its erstwhile position primarily through military power and technological advancement. China, India and other major powers are also determined to claim their positions.
  2. Neutral position: Instead, the US approach and attitude have contributed to bringing China and Russia closer. But, in the case of the India-China issue, Russia always seems in a neutral position. For example, Last year, acting as a pragmatic interlocutor, Russia had quietly played a constructive role in diffusing the Line of Actual Control standoff between India and China.
  3. Strategic autonomy of India: ‘In international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. India has a longstanding relationship with Russia. Nevertheless, through a growing strategic partnership with Europe and the US, India is trying to rebalance its relationship with the great powers, maintaining overall equilibrium and its own strategic autonomy.
  4. An important player in indo-pacific: Russia is an important player in the Indo-Pacific region. Both India and Russia countries have initiated cooperation in some geographical locations in this area. Not just the Eastern Maritime Corridor (Chennai-Vladivostok), India and Russia are also exploring the possibilities of Japan-India-Russia trilateral economic cooperation in Russia’s Far East region.
  5. USA withdrawal from Afghanistan: The Biden announcement of a complete American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September might have created some worry among Indian policymakers about India’s stake in Kabul. Regardless of the existing Russia-China-Pakistan troika, Russia considers India a major stakeholder on the issue of Afghanistan. The Russian side also reiterated its support for India’s position on Kashmir and Pakistan besides making it clear that will neither join CPEC nor supply defence equipment to Islamabad.
  6. India and China interest in Iran: China’s 25-year deal with Iran, India’s investment in Iran’s Chabahar port, and International North-South Transport Corridor connecting Russia and Central Asia make the Russian role even more meaningful in striking a balance between Indian and Chinese interests in Iran and the strategically important region.

So far, Russia has been a significant variable in the India-China equation on multiple fronts, creating an equilibrium rather than an imbalance. Indeed, balance and stability between India and China appear to be in Russia’s best interest for now.

FUTURE OF INDIA-RUSSIA COOPERATION

Russia’s strategic ties with China inform its criticism of the Indo-Pacific concept, together with its belief that it is a U.S.-led concept largely aimed to contain China. India’s acceptance of the “Indo-Pacific” concept can mainly be attributed to its growing concerns about Chinese expansionism in the region, affecting its national and maritime interests. With such contrasting views, it would be difficult for both India and Russia to come to a consensus on the idea of the Indo-Pacific. This is especially the case given their burgeoning relations with the United States and China respectively and the growing tensions between the latter two.  

However, there remain several new channels for closer engagement between India and Russia in the region the two may capitalize on. For instance,

  • Russian domestic politics, and especially a renewed focus on the Far East and East Siberia, are set to orient foreign policy even more towards engagement with Asia.
  • Engagement specifically with India in the Indo-Pacific region could be economically viable. India-Russia engagement in the Russian Far East by means of a trade route between Chennai and Vladivostok—could enhance geo-economic relations and regional connectivity.
  • Both countries should address defence misalignment and minimize the divergence of interests to avoid creating too large a wedge in the long run.
  • Multi-alignment has enabled India to forge deeper ties with Russia and the United States.

CONCLUSION: Although India sees its engagement with the United States having more weightage in countering China’s aggressive posturing, it must also try to strengthen and sustain its relations with Russia so that it has multiple strong alliances to counterbalance China.

Irrespective of India’s geopolitical equations with Russia and the United States, India’s choice to pursue multi-alignment redefines its strategic autonomy and pragmatism. Given the rising military and strategic competition, how India manages its engagement with extra-regional players will be key alongside enhancing its own capabilities and preparedness.

 

QUESTIONS:

  1. ‘As India is directly involved in the new cold war, so it doesn’t have any strategic choice like past’. Examine the statement.
  2. Although India has healthy relations with the USA it shouldn’t leave India-Russia relations back. Discuss the statement.
  3. How China factor is affecting India-Russia relations? How India can balance its relations with USA and Russia?
  4. As India needs Both USA and Russia to save its interests, it should focus on balance rather than leaning to one side. Comment and suggest the way forward for India’s foreign policy.

 

References

https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/16/india-fighting-china-means-forgetting-russia

https://theprint.in/diplomacy/china-not-happy-with-arms-supply-but-russia-india-friendship-unshakeable-carnegie-moscow-head/658625//

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/strategic-autonomy-no-longer-serves-india%E2%80%99s-interests-188033

https://theprint.in/opinion/why-russia-is-no-longer-a-strategic-ally-for-india-in-new-bipolar-world-led-by-us-and-china/636906/

https://kathmandupost.com/columns/2021/04/27/russia-variable-in-india-china-equation

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/russia-says-us-playing-quad-game-with-india/article33291351.ece

 

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