THE CONTEXT: Along with QUAD members, India, in December 2021, India conducted a 2+2 talk with one of its most strategically important partner nations, Russia. Russia will join the other countries where India holds a 2+2 ministerial dialogue. This first face-to-face bilateral meeting of the Russian President with any country since the onset of the pandemic signifies that the long-standing relations between the two are still as strong as ever.
OUTCOMES OF THE MEETING
The meeting saw the signing of 28 agreements across sectors from defense to energy to space exploration, science, and technology, heavy engineering, to trade and investment. However, the anticipated ‘Reciprocal Exchange of Logistical Support’ (RELOS) could not conclude in the meeting.
MILITARY PACTS: The two sides signed the ‘Agreement on Program of the Military-Technical Cooperation from 2021-2031’. This 10-year Defence Cooperation Program outlines the ongoing defense cooperation and possible future cooperation between the two countries. Such agreements are being signed since 1994. The long-awaited ‘A-203 assault rifles deal’ was inked at the end of bilateral talks between Defence Minister and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu, paving the way to produce over six lakh rifles Amethi.
S-400 MISSILES DEAL ON AUKUS AND INDO-PACIFIC: Regarding the threats of US sanctions on procurement of S-400 missiles, the Indian foreign secretary said that India follows an independent foreign policy, and decisions are not taken in light of others. On the issue of AUKUS and the Indo-Pacific, the Russian minister debunked these new formats calling them “non-inclusive” and violative of international norms.
ON REGIONAL SECURITY: India confirmed that issues such as Chinese incursions in Ladakh and the situation in Ukraine did come up during the conversations between India and Russia. The leadership also discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan, especially the security situation and its implications in the region, the current political situation, issues related to terrorism, radicalization and drug trafficking, etc.
ON TERRORISM: The joint statement mentioned India’s concerns of terror networks like Pak-based terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) finding space in Afghanistan. The leaders emphasized that Afghanistan’s territory should not be used for sheltering, training, planning, or financing any terrorist groups including ISIS, Al Qaeda, LeT, etc. The Russian side has invited the Indian side to Moscow for the next round of 2+2 dialogue to be held in 2022. India has accepted the invitation. The two sides also signed a protocol to allot land to set up the Indian Consulate General in the city of Vladivostok.
A SNAPSHOT OF INDO-RUSSIA RELATIONS
- BRICS; Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
- Indian Ocean Rim Association: India helped the induction of Russia
- UNSC conference on maritime: Russia displayed its proximity to India
INDIA-RUSSIA ANNUAL SUMMIT
- Highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism in the strategic partnership between India and Russia
- The latest summit is an institution of a new “two plus two” mechanism
RECENT COOPERATION IN DEFENCE
- 65% of Indian armed forces equipment is of Russian origin
- India procured the S-400 Triumf Missile from Russia
BACKGROUND OF NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN INDO-RUSSIA RELATIONS: THE CHANGING GEOPOLITICS
Asia Rising: The world has changed drastically in the last three decades. The Soviet Union collapsed, leaving Russia geopolitically weakened. China has risen dramatically as the effective number two global power and the US power has relatively declined, but it still retains its pre-eminence. The global political and economic center of gravity is shifting from the West to the Asian region.
Geopolitical realignments: Russia-US ties and US-China ties have deteriorated very sharply in recent times as the US sees both these powers as adversaries. Russia and China have forged an increasingly stronger strategic partnership (Russia’s “Pivot to the East”), especially after US sanctions on Russia from 2014 (Crimea Crisis). Russia’s relationship with Pakistan has also seen considerable change in the last five years. At the same time, India-US ties have been transformed, with the US becoming India’s leading partner in many ways, including a remarkable growth in defense ties.
Border tensions: No issue affected the Indo-Russian relationship as much as the border tensions between India and China. The Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh brought India-China relations to an inflection point. It has driven New Delhi to shed past hesitations and actively pursue more hard-nosed policies to protect its national interests.
Covid-19 Pandemic: Changing geopolitical equations are greatly accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The acceleration of the US-China rivalry due to the pandemic has made the bipolar dynamic the pivot around the new world order. India and Russia are both important players in their own right, but neither will occupy the top two positions in the world order. India and Russia remain supporters of multipolar world order. However, their foreign policy choices will inevitably be affected by the way their respective relations with the US and China have evolved.
Afghanistan issue: The exit of US security forces has posed a new challenge before India and Russia to fill the vacuum of a stable power center in the Taliban’s presence.
- The 2+2 dialogue is held between the foreign and defense ministers of two countries and is generally seen to be aimed at creating a mechanism under which the bilateral relationship takes a decisive strategic turn with greater integration of defense, security and intelligence apparatus.
- On the lines of 2+2 dialogue with the United States, India and Russia have decided to establish dialogue on the same pattern, to add further momentum to the strategic partnership between the two countries. India held its first 2+2 dialogue with the US in September 2018.
- The foreign minister and defense ministers of both countries will meet to review the cooperation between the two countries and discuss the pending defense projects and matters of strategic interests, including the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.
REASONS FOR 2+2 TALKS WITH RUSSIA: IN THE PRIME INTERESTS OF INDIAN MAINLAND
While India and Russia have shared a strategic relationship since October 2000, which later got upgraded to ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ in December 2010, it is only now that both countries are having their first 2+2 format dialogue even as the bilateral ties are facing a number of troubles.
The traditional build-up of Indo-Russia relations:
- Relations with Russia are a key pillar of India’s foreign policy, and Russia has been a long-standing time-tested partner of India. The historical character of the bilateral relationship binds both nations together.
- Both countries signed the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000.
- Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defense, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism cooperation, and space.
- Russia also reaffirmed its “unwavering support” to India for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council.
- Russia’s medical aid to India in the context of a new COVID-19 wave and Sputnik V supplies provided a positive background for the cooperation going forward.
- The deterioration of Afghanistan’s situation, particularly the Kabul takeover by the Taliban, also forced India and Russia to band together.
- The supply of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, which signifies more than just advanced military cooperation between the two countries. Such impactful pacts definitely called for greater cooperation.
- 25% of Russia’s defense export to India and in 2018, India- Russia defense trade amounted to $ 15 billion.
- There is a pile-up of other deals in defense and energy that have been at a protracted stage and now await a handshake between both nations to move forward (for example, the Kudankulam nuclear power plant).
- The 2+2 format of talks is an effective way to promote security cooperation. Recently, because China is using many types of methods including military, diplomacy, and economy to expand its influence. Therefore, diplomacy, including economic policy and military, should be coordinated to deal with China. Therefore, 2+2 is a more effective way to deal with the problem of China.
- India and Russia have identified several new areas of cooperation. These range from deep-sea exploration to building knowledge-based economies based on science and technology, innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence, focussing on infrastructure, skill development, agriculture, shipbuilding, railways, aviation, and greater connectivity, especially people-to-people contacts.
THE WAY FORWARD
- As India develops ties with other like-minded powers to deal with the rise of China, it must also strengthen its special, privileged strategic partnership with Russia. The former superpower is an important partner in its Act East policy and a more balanced Russia-China relationship is in its interests.
- High-level engagement is particularly important in the India-Russia relationship as it remains driven by top-level interaction. Efforts should be to intensify contacts and diversify areas of cooperation with Russia.
- Apart from traditional cooperation areas, new economic engagement sectors are likely to emerge, mining, agro-industrial, and high technology, including robotics, nanotech, and biotech. India’s footprint in the Russian Far East and in the Arctic is set to expand. Connectivity projects may get a boost too.
- India should pursue and facilitate Russia’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific. Russia may not use the term Indo-Pacific for some more time, but its active engagement, irrespective of motive, in the region would be beneficial to India and contribute to making the Indo-Pacific “free and inclusive”.
- New Delhi has been consistent in promoting links between the Indo-Pacific and the Russian Far East. The willingness of India and Russia to promote regional cooperation is also visible in proposals for joint economic projects in the Far East and the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime trade route.
THE CONCLUSION: India and Russia share deep-rooted ties dating back to the Soviet era. Cooperation in trade, defense, and space, and significant investments in each other’s economies, continued even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Holding the 2+2 talks with Russia was much needed. This gives out a strong message to the world that India sees everyone to be on the same level. Having a 2+2 with Russia also means that India is “not in anyone’s camp” and that bilateral ties between Moscow and New Delhi are “traditional and comprehensive”. This is visible messaging. And this will also show that the defense to defense relationship between both countries is robust.
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