Russia, Geopolitics and India

Russia, China and Pakistan team-up seems to slowly shape up the potential power realignment of the world. The team-up is seeking to challenge the great power status quo, or pushing for greater bipolarity in global affairs.

Russian Geopolitics | Apprehensions

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The recent overtures by Russia to India’s arch rivals are not being appreciated by the power circles in New Delhi. What are such moves that infuriate India?

  • First is the Russian support to the Chinese claim over the South China Sea (SCS) and its rejection of the international tribunal’s verdict, as also the decision to initiate joint naval exercises in the disputed sea.
  • Second is Moscow’s decision to undertake its first-ever military exercises with Pakistan, at a time when the latter is being internationally censured for promoting cross-border terrorism.

Russian ambitions

  • While the Russia-China channel of strategic cooperation has long existed, Moscow has for many years been largely been fiddling with this association intended to resist American hegemony. The entry of Pakistan in this matrix could imply the unravelling of a Cold War-era permutation.
  • Moscow not just intends to create a rebalancing in the region, but also wants to create space for its own neo-USSR ambitions of taking the centre-stage.
  • Going by the current trends, the Russian grand strategy seems not just to continue countering the US primacy but also displacing China as the primary countervailing force in this region, even while ensuring China incurs the costs of resisting the American influx.
  • Moscow on the other hand wants to play realpolitik of displacing China as the countervailing force in this region, even while taking China into confidence. It can be deciphered by its overtures to rivals of China such as Vietnam, with whom it is negotiating a BrahMos missile delivery with India as a partner country.
  • Russian pivot includes – direct intervention (Ukraine and Syria), passive engagement and crisis management (South China Sea, Turkey and ISIS) for the expansion of its influence across Eurasia.

Conditions fostering the Russian motives

  • Emergence of neo-right governments both in Europe and USA and the possible extension of the phenomenon elsewhere. This is seen as a protectionist trajectory where Russia gets the opportunity to take the lead of the divided house.
  • China’s hawkish approach to the South China Sea and the subsequent economic downfall of China is forcing it to withdraw its diplomatic claws from the world stage, leaving Russia enough legroom to manoeuvre at the world stage.

Opportunity for Pakistan

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With few backers in the Western and Islamic worlds, and China remaining the only all-weather friend to carry some of its weight, the Russian entry into its calculus is an indisputable strategic gain for Pakistan.

Unlike the Americans who sermonize to oriental allies on everything from democracy to religious freedom, the Russians ignore international opinion and pursue their strategic objectives without pushing for the norms perpetuated by Western liberal democracies. For a state which is increasingly attaining pariah status, Pakistan could easily sync with these non-liberal attributes and conspire against the “enemy” West.

Breakup with India

Since the 1971 Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, Moscow has been India’s largest and most reliable defence partner for over four decades. Though the fall of the Soviet Union had troubled the Indian armed forces with a scarcity of spares and an antiquated arsenal, Russia continued to remain India’s trustworthy source of military equipment, despite new entrants such as Israel taking a chunk. Things seem to have dramatically changed in the last few years as American defence companies have begun to make a huge windfall through direct purchases under Foreign Military Sales (FMS)—they are destined to overtake Russian companies. While a few remnants of the legacy – BrahMos, INS Vikramaditya and Fifth Generation Fighter (FGF) – remain as symbols of this relationship, Russia is aware of how the Indian defence market is soon to be ruled by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Even in the nuclear zone, Moscow could have been taken aback by the benevolence shown to Westinghouse on the Kovvada nuclear site which the Russians had eyed as an alternative to Haripur.

The increasing dependence on the US on a range of strategic domains—from nuclear, defence, space and high-end technology—India has now crossed a critical frontier by signing strategic agreements like the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). To Moscow, this might be signal that the time-tested friendship is ripe for review. While Russia heeded India’s opposition when it opened initial channels with Islamabad in the last decade, its decision to go ahead with the exercises, in spite of Uri, indicates the diminishing leverage Delhi has with Moscow.

Alarm for India

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The military exercises with Russia and the purported Chinese declaration of support in the event of hostilities with India are shots in the arm for Pakistan at a time when it faces international isolation.

It might not be surprising if Russia is soon invited to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a means for Pakistan to countenance India’s economic might.

China will prove to be the lynchpin in building this perceived matrix into a formidable platform challenging American writ in the region. Needless to say, these developments are a wake-up call to India on the need to reorient its great power relationships. India’s effused confidence in striking an effective balance between Moscow and Washington seems to have seriously eroded. New Delhi needs to reorient its strategic rebalancing of its relationship between the two great powers. Be cautious, the world is humming to the tunes of Russian opera, let’s not write off the theatrics and actions in this game of realpolitik.

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