New Delhi: Just as the US has reservations over India procuring S-400 missiles from Russia, China too has objections to Moscow supplying arms to New Delhi. But Russia’s relationship with India is “unshakeable”, said Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
In an interview to ThePrint, Trenin, who also chairs the research council and the Foreign and Security Policy Program at Carnegie, said while Russia is close to India and China, it is not a country that can be “dictated to” by another country.
“Our Chinese neighbours are not much happy (sic) with Russia supplying arms to India… The Chinese are less overt in their pressure and they are less public about that and they also know that trying to pressure Russia will be counterproductive. You try it, and (it) may be the last time you do it,” Trenin said.
“Russia will not allow itself to be dictated to by another country on issues that are of major interest, and that includes the Indo-Russia arms relationship. I don’t think it will be simply given up by Moscow as a gift to Beijing,” he stressed.
‘S-400 the real test’
Trenin said the real test for India from Russia’s perspective will be to see how New Delhi eventually goes about and procures the S-400 Triumf air defence missile system under pressure from the US, which continues to remain undecided over waiving sanctions for India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
The $5.2 billion S-400 deal between India and Russia has become a major cause of consternation between New Delhi and Washington. India has already apprised the US of the fact that the deal was finalised before CAATSA came into being in 2017 under the former Donald Trump administration. But the Joe Biden administration has also raised the issue of India buying S-400 missiles from Russia, and hinted at possible sanctions during the visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to India in March.
“It will be a test for India — this is how it will be seen in Moscow at least — what decision will eventually be taken on the S-400 issue. Clearly, the US does not want Russia to sell arms to anybody. The US and Russia are locked in a serious long-term confrontation and there’s no let up to this confrontation in the foreseeable future. The US will pressure Russia very, very hard, and those who deal with Russia will feel part of the pressure,” Trenin, who served in the Soviet and Russian armed forces from 1972 to 1993, said.
“Experience shows that if a country submits to pressure, there will be more pressure, so that the submission is more secured. If a country manages to stand up to pressure of the US and if the US believes it has other important interests with India, it would allow a waiver to India. Pressure and prestige come together. If you withstand the pressure, you enhance your prestige,” he said.
‘India, Russia have to rethink their relationship’
According to Trenin, while friendship is “at the core” of the relationship between India and Russia, both New Delhi and Moscow have to “rethink” their ties in a changing geopolitical environment.
“It is a more challenging environment in which India and Russia operate. They have to rethink the relationship… at both ends. There are interests, and those interests need to be managed,” he said.
India and Russia have recently announced that they are going to establish a ‘2+2’ dialogue between their respective foreign and defence ministries for the first time ever.
“India and Russia should pursue their bilateral relationship, which is of high value for both Delhi and Moscow, in this more complex and international environment. That’s the issue, that’s the problem, and that’s why having a more structured relationship, having a relationship that brings foreign ministers and defence ministers of the two countries together on a regular basis is something of true significance… Truly important in today’s world,” Trenin continued.
He contextualised it by saying the 2+2 dialogue between India and Russia comes at a time when Moscow’s ties with Beijing are growing, as are New Delhi’s ties with Washington, while the US-Russia and US-China relationships are strained, as is India’s with China.
“We live in a world in which Russia’s relations with India should not be defined or guided by Russia’s relations with China and America. By the same token, India’s relationship with Russia should not be shaped according to India’s relations with China and America. Those two powers (the US and China) which have very different policies towards India and Russia are very important factors, but they should not be the principal defining factors,” Trenin averred.
Russia making it easy for India, China to engage in dialogue
Despite the major stand-off at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh between the Indian and Chinese armies that began in April-May 2020, Moscow was able to bring together New Delhi and Beijing for the trilateral Russia-India-China (RIC) dialogue and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet. This was seen by many as Russia’s way of mediating between India and China, a thought that Moscow rejected.
Trenin said it’s also important from the Russian perspective to engage with China in a friendly way, “so that China does not dominate the great continent of Eurasia”.
“There is a future in Russia-India-China and that should be pursued… I think it should be pursued by Russia and should be pursued by India, particularly if India fears China’s dominance, if India fears Russia may become China’s follower, which I would dismiss,” he said, adding the RIC was the way to deal with it.
“Russia will only accept the role of a mediator if asked so by Delhi and Beijing. What Russia is doing, has been doing and will continue to do is facilitating that dialogue, using various means… Russia is urging and making it easier for India and China to engage in the RIC dialogue,” Trenin added.
On the Quad, Indo-Pacific
On the issue of India being part of the ‘Quad’ grouping that also consists of the US, Japan and Australia, and playing a key role under the Indo-Pacific strategic construct, Trenin said: “The Quad is seen by many in Moscow as an instrument that the United States is using primarily to contain China, and to a certain degree, Indian and American interests are close in some respects regarding China. The rapprochement between India and the US insecurity issues is natural.”
He added that the challenge is for India to manage its two friends — US and Russia — who are not friends with each other, just like Russia has to manage India and China, who are not friends with each other.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)