India, Russia Regain Elan of Friendship

December, 2008

The visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to New Delhi last week turned out to be an occasion for the Indian government to fundamentally reassess the strategic significance of the traditional India-Russia partnership. No doubt, the visit took place at a turning point in contemporary history and politics against the backdrop of massive shifts in the international system. Medvedev arrived in India in the immediate aftermath of the horrific terrorist strikes on Mumbai. The regional security situation - especially Afghanistan - naturally figured prominently in the agenda of the visit. The joint declaration signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Medvedev after extensive talks in New Delhi reflects that the two sides have taken serious pains to understand each other's vital concerns and have endeavored to go more than half the distance to accommodate them. They also made a conscious effort to expand their common ground in the international system. After a considerable lapse of time, Russian-Indian relationship seems to be on the move. Things which were hanging fire in the general drift of Russian-India relations in recent years are being attended to. Principal among them is the tendentious issue of the escalation of costs for the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which India has contracted to buy. On the eve of Medvedev's visit, the Indian cabinet took the decision to agree to discuss an additional US$2.2 billion payment as demanded by Russia. The government also has approved the acquisition of 80 medium-lift Mi-17 helicopters from Russia worth $1.3 billion.

Reaching out

Medvedev also came with a brief to discuss the leasing of a nuclear submarine to the Indian navy. India-Russia military cooperation is back in full swing with a host of projects in the pipeline. Russia has consolidated its place as the number one arms supplier for India. But the icing on the cake is the proposed cooperation in the nuclear and space fields. Agreements were signed on Russia constructing four new nuclear power plants in India and on assisting a manned Indian space flight. Russia has offered a new power plant AES-2006, which incorporates a third generation WER-1200 reactor of 1170MW. Russia has also agreed to supply uranium worth $700 million to meet India's acute shortage. Manmohan described the agreements as signifying a "new milestone in the history of cooperation with Russia". He added, "It is a relationship that has withstood the test of time." He acknowledged that India's dialogue with Russia has "intensified considerably". Significantly, he said the terrorist attacks on Mumbai "present a threat to pluralistic societies" [read Russia] and that "there is much Russia and India can do to promote global peace".

Clearly, the two countries have rediscovered the old elan of their friendship. They are reaching out to each other once again in a world that is in transition. Apart from the volatility in the international situation, both India and Russia sense that change is in the air in the United States' global policies, but neither would wager the extent and directions of the change. Both are acutely conscious of the inexorable decline in the US influence in world politics and the urgent need to adjust to the emergent realities of multipolarity. At the same time, the US remains the single-most important interlocutor for both India and Russia for the foreseeable future. Neither would see their partnership as directed against the US. Even as Medvedev arrived in Delhi, a senior Indian official was making contacts with key advisors to president-elect Barack Obama to brief them on Delhi's perspectives and policies. On its part, Moscow is also in an expectant mood about the Obama presidency, though tempered with cautious optimism.

The balancing of Russian-Indian mutual interests evident in the joint declaration brings out these delicate impulses as they touch on many areas. The declaration is devoid of any anti-US rhetoric as such but it is very obvious that the two countries are overhauling their partnership in tune with a "post-American century". India has identified itself with the Russian position on reforming the international economic and financial systems so that it adapts to "new realities" and promotes a "more just world economic order based on the principles of multipolarity, rule of law, equality, mutual respect and common responsibility".

Russia seeks Sino-Indian rapport

India also finds itself emphasizing the "growing and more focused interaction" within the framework of the trilateral format among Russia, China and India, despite its lukewarm attitude in the recent past towards the process which annoys Washington as a needless endeavor on India's part. Significantly, the joint declaration says that the trilateral format "acquires importance in the framework of multilateral dialogue mechanisms, substantially contributes to strengthening newly emerging multipolarity and promotes collective leadership of world’s leading states". This is a carefully drafted formulation that speaks of an intention to inject new dynamism into the format. Conceivably, Moscow has prevailed on Delhi to reassess the significance of the format in the volatile international situation. Russia had been viewing with growing despondency its inability to foster Sino-Indian rapport. Equally, the Russian side seems to have urged India to play a more active role and "more constructive participation and contribution to" the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Similarly, India has shed its carefully cultivated ambivalence and come out in open, unqualified support of the Russian position on the situation in the Caucasus region. It is a signal victory of the Kremlin to have finally got India on board, as this is a most sensitive issue which occupies the first circle of Russian foreign policy and is, in fact, a leitmotif of Russia's relations with the US in the coming period. The joint declaration stresses, "India supports the important role of the Russian Federation in promoting peace and cooperation in the Caucasian region". The key expression is "Caucasian" - anything from the Caucasus region. India's support is open-ended and unequivocal. Again, India has voiced its support for Russia's keenness to join the Asia-Europe meeting and East Asia summit mechanisms, while Russia has reiterated its support for India's claim to permanent membership in an expanded United Nations Security Council. From the Indian perspective, no doubt, it is an invaluable asset that Moscow has voiced its total "support and solidarity" with New Delhi on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The Russian gesture by far exceeds the words of sympathy offered by Washington. Of course, Moscow is not facing Washington's dilemma, which is one of having to carefully balance between New Delhi and Islamabad. Simply put, what the Mumbai attacks have badly exposed is that much as terrorism is a shared concern for the US and India, their priorities at this juncture greatly differ.

India would expect Washington to come down like a ton of bricks on Islamabad to pressure the latter to take seriously the Indian allegation that the terrorist strike in Mumbai was perpetrated by elements in Pakistan with possible links to that country's security establishment. Evidently, Washington is in no position to fulfill the Indian expectations. Its number one priority is the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's continued cooperation in the war. Washington cannot afford a "distracted" Pakistan, and its main political and diplomatic challenge, therefore, is to get Pakistan to remain "focused" on the war effort in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal areas. New Delhi senses that as time goes by, it will find this paradigm frustrating. This is not a new paradigm, either. But Delhi's options are limited, though the government is under immense pressure not only to act but also to be seen actively acting. The delicate strategic balance between India and Pakistan virtually forecloses even a "limited" war option for either nuclear power. The only alternative open to India is to reassess its diplomatic options. But on this score, New Delhi needs to do some new thinking.

Which is where Delhi's partnership with Moscow comes into play. The strategic community in New Delhi would realize to their great discomfiture that the entire package of post-Cold War assumptions underlying the US-India strategic partnership just do not add up in the present situation for India to cope with the formidable task of pressuring Pakistan. Their broad assumption that the US would take care of India's "Pakistan problem" while India concentrated on its tryst with destiny as a great power or "balancer" in the international system is turning out to be a grotesque misjudgment by the Indian strategic gurus. So, indeed, their assumptions regarding "absolute security". The Russian-Indian joint declaration suggests that New Delhi is swiftly adapting to the reality that it must diversify the sinews of cooperation and revitalize its diverse partnerships with countries on the basis of shared concerns and commonality of interests rather than pursue a foreign policy whose prime objective has been to harmonize Indian regional policies with the US's. This is most tellingly evident on the Joint Declaration's paragraph devoted to Afghanistan.

Realignment on Afghanistan

Ironically, New Delhi seems to have decided that if it is Afghan war that causes so much discomfiture for Washington to come out into the open in support of India over the Mumbai strikes, it shall also be Afghanistan on which Indian regional policy shall begin to make a new beginning and careen away for the first time in a long while from US benchmarks and expectations. The punch line in the joint declaration comes almost innocuously. Sharing their concern over the "deteriorating security situation" in Afghanistan, India and Russia called for a "coherent and a united international commitment" to dealing with the threats emanating from that country. The implied criticism of the US-led war is obvious as also the rejection of the US strategy to keep the war strategy as its exclusive prerogative. The Joint Declaration then goes on to say, "Both sides welcome Russia's initiative to organize an international conference in the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, involving its Member states and Observers."

New Delhi has come out into open support of a regional initiative on Afghanistan, which Washington would have loved to stifle in its cradle. The Indian stance is significant for various reasons. India has decided that there is no need to mark time until the Obama administration finalizes its own new Afghan strategy. It is asserting its own stakes independent of the US strategy. Two, India is identifying with Russia, China and Iran, which is an immensely significant happening in regional politics. Three, India is siding with a Russia-led regional initiative on Afghanistan at a time when various influential American opinion-makers have been floating the idea of a US-led "regional approach" to an Afghan settlement that virtually allows the US to be on the driving seat. Most certainly, India is implicitly recognizing the SCO's relevance to South Asian security. Afghanistan is a member of the SAARC and could act as a bridge between South Asia and Central Asia. In essence, therefore, India is spurning the US's much-touted "Great Central Asia" strategy that aims at diluting the SCO's role in Central Asia and instead pins hopes on India as a counterweight to the Russian and Chinese regional influence.

It is apparent that India is dissociating from the concerted US policy to keep the SCO out of Afghanistan. Moscow has been vainly striving to carve out a toehold for the SCO as a regional body while Washington has been discouraging Afghan President Hamid Karzai from lending weight to the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. More than anything else, the fact remains that the Russian initiative on an SCO conference is intended as a challenge to the monopoly that Washington has kept in determining the contours of any Afghan settlement. Indeed, it opens up more possibilities for Karzai to expand his "strategic autonomy" vis-a-vis Washington, which he has been inclined to exercise, even if timidly, of late. Karzai has every reason to cooperate with a regional initiative in which all the major powers surrounding Afghanistan such as Russia, China, India and Iran are associated. The onus is now on the US and Pakistan to explain why they should dissociate. Of course, the US would have preferred to encourage the on-going Turkish initiative to mediate Afghan-Pakistan talks. The latest three-way round involving the presidents of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan just concluded in Ankara. Washington was happy that Turkey lent a hand in keeping the Afghan peace process as an "in-house" affair - keeping "outsiders" like Russia or Iran at arm's length. The SCO initiative is a needless intrusion, from the US-Turkish perspective.


Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.


In other news:

Govt to Inject 150bn in Defense Enterprises

Russia’s government will rescue defense and industrial complex from global turmoil. The package of bailout actions is worth 150 billion rubles and the RF Finance Ministry will submit it to the cabinet this week, Vedomosti reported citing its own sources. The list of enterprises to be rescued by the state isn’t clear yet, but the sources say the United Aircraft Corp and Rostekhnologii will be there for sure. Meanwhile, the accounts payable of Rostekhnologii enterprises amount to roughly 80 billion rubles, and MiG owes more than 40 billion rubles, which shelved the company’s merger with the United Aircraft Corp. The bailout plan for defense and industrial enterprises sets forth five major items. The state is ready to inject roughly 50 billion rubles to step up their capitalization and lay aside another 100 billion rubles as the loan security. The government intends to consider applications filed by defense and industrial companies for the buyout of their new stocks. There will be from 15 to 35 companies overall. Russia’s Vice Premier Sergei Ivanov pledged earlier that the state order for defense sector would widen by 60 billion rubles in 2009.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.