Monday, March 27, 2023
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Ladakh shows Russia won’t choose between India and China. It doesn’t want to

US sanctions on Russia as well as its determination to paint Vladimir Putin as the bad guy is driving Moscow into Beijing’s arms. Make no mistake, this is a willing embrace.

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Back in September 2020, when the Russians hosted India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the formal Russia-China-India meeting, many, including me, applauded. It was hoped that the face-to-face meeting would help break the deadlock over the Ladakh crisis, enabling both Indian and Chinese troops to withdraw to their respective sides of the LAC and allow their leaderships to save face.

The Russia intervention, I argued, would help return Russia front and centre to India’s imagination. An old friend would use its good offices with a new one, and persuade it to see the light. Even if the Chinese claimed this territory, there was much merit in discussing the matter; after all, China has been party to several agreements on maintaining peace and tranquility on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which it unilaterally violated by sending troops to Ladakh.

How wrong we were! Not only did Russia not once comment on the Ladakh standoff, it now transpires that it won’t in the future either. Russia will not choose between India and China because it doesn’t want to, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin told me. Russia looks at the world differently, Trenin added, compared to Delhi or Washington DC or Beijing, pointing out that it was in Moscow’s interest to encourage a multipolar world in which several powerful axes, besides the US, existed.

Also read: Moscow’s relationship with China, Pakistan independent of its ties with India — Russian envoy

Russia in Chinese arms

First, the lay of the land. China will overtake the US to become the world’s most powerful economy by 2028, says a UK consultancy group, five years before it was expected to because of Covid. The pandemic has hit the Americans hard, leading to 419,000 deaths and the economy contracting by at least 5 per cent. GDP is likely to decline by 4.4 per cent, the worst since World War 2. China, on the other hand, will likely grow by 2 per cent.

If the penny hadn’t dropped in the minds of the Indian intelligentsia so far, it should soon. Fact is, Russia is hugely invested – and dependent – on the China bond. Russia is China’s biggest arms supplier, accounting for 70 per cent of China’s imports from 2014-2018 – although the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute now says that China has overtaken Russia to become the world’s second-largest exporter of arms (US is still on top). The Russia-China export basket is heavily skewed in favour of energy, as much as 70 per cent, and includes nuclear power systems, aircraft as well as a missile warning system that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced it was helping Beijing to build. One full decade ago, China overtook Germany to become Russia’s largest trade partner. Russia-China bilateral trade had crossed $110 billion before the pandemic – China’s share increasing from 10.5 per cent in Russia’s total trade in 2013 to 15.7 per cent ($34.1 billion) in 2019 to 17.3 per cent ($31.8 billion) in early 2020.

In fact, the US-China trade war gave Russia the opportunity to export large agricultural products to China. The Moscow-Kazan high-speed railway, even if it has overshot its budget several times, is being built with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) funds. China’s AliPay will soon be offering digital payment services to Russians. Seven of China’s eight long-distance international terrestrial cables pass through Russia. Russia bought Huawei equipment to conduct its 5G trials.

Also read: India-Russia summit postponed due to Covid, no other reason — MEA, Russian envoy. ThePrint stands by report

India-Russia, on the other hand

Contrast this with the plummeting India-Russia economic relationship – or its refusal to take off since the end of the Cold War, 30 long years ago. Bilateral trade for January-September 2019 figures are less than $8 billion, while 2018 figures are within kissing distance of $11 billion. Top items for import from Russia include nuclear reactors, mineral fuels and cultured pearls; top items of export include pharma goods, organic chemicals and vehicles other than trains.

You can see what’s going on. US sanctions on Russia as well as its determination to paint Putin as the bad guy is driving Moscow into Beijing’s arms. Not that Moscow is a victim, not at all. Putin, who took charge of Russia in 1999 after eight years of unprecedented economic and social chaos that reduced Russia to a banana republic with Third World economic woes, realised he needed the Chinese to climb back to at least semi-big power status.

Make no mistake, this is a willing embrace. Putin thinks he knows where to draw the line, that he is in full control of the passion index, and that Russia isn’t in any danger of becoming a vassal or junior partner of the Middle Kingdom. Of course, one way to disprove that perception among old and tried and tested friends, like India, is to show that you care in areas where it matters.

The crisis in Ladakh is one of those areas. For India, it matters on which side the cookie – or the Borodinsky black bread – crumbles. Can Vladimir Putin disprove Dmitri Trenin, who has proclaimed to ThePrint and the world that “Russia won’t choose between India and China”?

If not, then the coming months are going to be as predictable as one foot following the next. China – and Russia – will push Delhi to draw closer to the “free world.” Yes, we are going to begin speaking like them too.

Views are personal.

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  1. My dear motherland India,
    If you think eithet Russia or USA or some other “friend” will come and protect you, you are wrong. Your sons, and a daughter, have kept you militarily and economically weak.
    It is time the present sons and daughters of yours wake up and make You strong both economically and militarily. instead of querelling like little children over petty matters.

  2. No The author conveniently forget or hides Western (American) encroachments into Ukraine jn 2014 that started this division with Russia.. America was never a friend or India or will never in future be with India..

  3. Its time we slowly withdraw from our russian embrace and have a multiple engagement with France, Israel, USA and Japan. Both Russia and china would trap us. Just as Russia poisoned Navalney, I have a feeling they killed our late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, through some form of poisoning to pressure him to sign a disadvantages treaty.

    • No The author conveniently forget or hides Western (American) encroachments into Ukraine jn 2014 that started this division with Russia.. America was never a friend or India or will never in future be with India..

  4. India is really mistaken about China who has no interest to offend India, by judging the investment China was pouring into India and the social media control China recently put on anti-India public feeling. The border dispute is a chip on India shoulder in a way. After all it is a border dispute. Did China settle anyone there or explored the natural resources? Did China move further along disputed lines? I think it is mostly in India’s head, which I think it is wrong to pick sides, which is actually hurting India. I think India should focus on economic development and take advantage of all sides. Forming alliances with US make India lose respects in Asia and Africa because it regarded India as the leader of non-alliance movement. Remember America has no India interest in its heart (just like they dont have either on Africa). If India thinks India can benefit from America by taking side with America, in a similar way as America used China against Russia that benefited China. Then think again. Because China situation nowadays is very different from Russia then.

  5. With a declining population and an economy based only on raw materials and military equipment, Russia will end up being subservient to China, irrespective of it’s great past. With a hostile West, Russia’s choices are limited to Germany mainly. If it wishes to maintain some modicum of it’s past glory it needs to hedge it’s bets. Considering the history of it’s relationship with India which have never been hostile and Russia’s past conflicts with China, Russia would be wise not to jeopardize it.

  6. Russia and China jointly hold sway over Central Asia. Southeast Asia tilts towards China. Russia and Iran have strong shared military interests as Middle East powers facing war with the US. If India decides to side with the US it becomes very isolated on the Eurasian land mass, surrounded almost completely by neutral, unsympathetic, or hostile powers. Having Pacific partners does not break the isolation. The rational response is to make peace with China on Chinese terms to avoid isolation.

  7. For Russia there never was a choice between China and India. For it, China was always the FIRST. During Soviet days, Mikhail Gorbachev had made this clear by saying, “Our Chinese brothers and Indian friends.” Indian media had even taken note of this.

  8. The authors knowledge is skewed . It does not make sense to say india will move towards west because Russia will not take sides .
    India might move towards west because of its economic ties with the west . Staying neutral is much better I I would say .
    European union is much more powerful than china .

  9. Geopolitics apart, consider each country’s economy – more so where it intersects with the rest of the world, through trade, investment, technology flows – as a gravitational field. Russia ke ek taraf Aaftaab hai, aur ek taraf Mehtaab.

  10. As someone who is a huge proponent of Indo-Russian friendship, it’s been disappointing to see the Russian stance on the Ladakh issue.

    Russians should realise that continuing chinese hostility against India will drive India towards the West and that does not bode well for its own interest.

    Putin will not want to become Xi’s lapdog but sadly his (lack of) actions are taking him in that direction.

    Situation is far from being lost though, both sides should strive to ensure that our relationship remains on track. Indo-Russian equation will play a huge role in preventing the next cold war from turning hot.

    • If Russia doesn’t have China, it can not face the US alone and will have to capitulate. If Russia doesn’t have India, it loses a long standing customer for arms sales. Which choice do you think Russia will make? If India distances itself from Russia and becomes America’s lapdog, it will be nearly isolated on the entire Eurasian land mass.

      • Nah recent experience has thought never to become US lapdog ever. They f**king denied us raw materials for vaccine manufacturing when we are at our worst covid phase( Russia , Germany, France , Singapore, UAE offered even China was ready to do so ) .

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