Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin | PTI file photo
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The Russian embassy in New Delhi has denied a report in the Indian media that Moscow, at Pakistan’s behest, sought to keep India out of discussions on Afghanistan. But the Russian position should not come as much of a surprise. Disagreements between India and Russia, on geopolitics, are only likely to grow, and Afghanistan is just one among many such issues. While India and Russia do have some common interests, Moscow has its own imperatives that New Delhi should understand. Russian confrontation with the West broadly, and with the US in particular, forces Moscow to lean more heavily on Beijing. That makes India and Russia less useful to each other for some time to come. It is better to acknowledge this reality and reduce the burden of expectations than continue to act as if this is the same old relationship, which it never ever was.

Russia has been useful to India in some ways, particularly in enhancing Indian military power. But Moscow’s political compulsion to support China is a warning that New Delhi should heed. India’s dependence on Moscow for weapons is a vulnerability that the Indian decision makers need to take more seriously.

Indian diplomacy may be hoping to drive a wedge between Russia and China but this understanding assumes that India can be more useful to Russia than China. This is not very likely, to put it mildly. Similarly, India and Russia can daydream about establishing a “multipolar global order”, but this is not something that can be conjured up because we desire. It simply describes the distribution of power, which is stark: China’s economy is more than three times as large as India’s and Russia’s combined. Asia, taken by itself, is already unipolar, and the world is heading towards a US-China bipolarity. Desire cannot overcome reality.


Also read: Modi’s India loves global praise, but turns angry Vishwaguru at slightest criticism


Between India and Russia is US

The source of divergence between Indian and Russian interests lies in the continuing problems that Russia faces in its relations with the US. There can be little doubt that the US was, at the least, careless in how it treated Russia in the decade after the end of the Cold War. There can be equally little doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behaviour on a range of issues, from Ukraine, to the poisoning of Russian dissidents in the West, to his efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential elections, all antagonised the US. Former US President Donald Trump may have had a bit of a soft corner for Putin’s muscular preening, but even his own administration’s response to Russia was not particularly soft. President Biden and his administration is likely to be tougher, as seen during the first conversation between him and Putin. The just-released Biden ‘interim’ strategic guidance document begins by pointing at the “growing rivalry with China, Russia and other authoritarian states”.

Putin has shown little indication that he will soften towards the West either. These are early days, of course, and things may change – the two countries did agree to extend the New START nuclear arms treaty just three weeks after Biden took over. But it is difficult to see much cooperation or even a reduction in tensions between the two sides in the immediate future.

The consequence of this confrontation is that Moscow has increasingly leaned on China both for support as well as a way to undermine American power. The military relationship between the two has become increasingly close: in addition to conventional weapons, Russia is also helping China set up its missile early warning system, one of the most sensitive bits of technology for any nuclear power. Particularly striking is what has primarily been an arms supply relationship has become increasingly broader, at least from Moscow’s perspective.

Last October, Putin even said that he would not rule out a military alliance between the two countries, a remark that Chinese officials did not endorse but did not reject either. Russia has also taken a harsh and sometimes undiplomatic posture towards the Indo-Pacific, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterising the Quad as an anti-China game that the US is pushing India towards – much to India’s discomfiture. As the latest Quad summit demonstrates, despite Moscow’s opposition, India clearly sees the grouping as a necessary response to China. Moscow’s game may be designed to undermine the US’ role in the region or to ensure that Washington and China continue to scuffle, for that is what serves Russia best. But it does not serve India at all because it is China’s potential hegemony over Asia that New Delhi should fear more, not American power. It is American weakness, either in capability or willingness, that would hurt India.


Also read: Caught in a deadly triangle of mistrust and competition — Afghanistan, India, Pakistan


Who benefits whom, between the four of them

The widening gulf between India and Russia does serve China, however, as does the rift between Moscow and Washington. With an economy about half the size of India’s, Russia is not much of a competitor to China. But Russia can still be a source of high-technology weapons for China. China’s broader technological base surpasses Russia’s but it still has the odd weakness: it flies a fifth-generation fighter jet but it needs a Russian engine, a dependance that Beijing is clearly unhappy with. More importantly, Russia provides useful political support for Beijing at a time when China has antagonised many other powers.

Like all international partnerships, including India-Russia relations, the China-Russia partnership is one of convenience. But the conditions that gave rise to it are unlikely to change in the near future. Indian policy should acknowledge this and adjust accordingly.

The author is a professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Views are personal.

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51 COMMENTS

  1. Kudos to Yogendra Yadav for exposing the fears of use of muscle and money and other coercive and intimidation means in the W.Bengal election. ECI,CBI,Judiciary and other institutions have already surrendered to the dictates of the people in power. EVM has also been not considered fully creditable. Governor has always been opposing tooth and nail the Mamta Govt.policies being a stooge of the RSS. Hope every institution works in a transparent manner to save democracy.

  2. See, it is very simple… stop going to lick in the USA and everything will be ok. Then China & Russia will be your good friend.

  3. Erstwhile USSR Of which Soviet Russia is the main country was is and will eternally remain best friend of Bharat.

  4. While the assessment is broadly true, some facts have been, in my opinion, deliberately overlooked. While the strategic objectives of China & Russia have converged like never before, there is also two other factors that need to be looked into. First is that the convergence is NOT between Russia & China, but between China, Putin and his cronies. Any Democratic opposition to Putin is unlikely to court China over the West, so as to preserve itself in Russia. While Putin does enjoy overwhelming dominance over Russia in the near-term, it can’t be ignored that this was also true with the Tsarist regime in the 19th century & the Soviet Union in the 90s and yet they all fell suddenly during periods of deep social & political churn. Russia faces deep demographic and economic crises and the possibility of the next such sudden change can’t be ruled out. In view of all this, I believe it would be better to recast the Indo-Russia relationship so that the basis of its relations is moved away from strategic cooperation like defense and UN affairs to economic areas like natural resources, civilian technological cooperation to sustain the relationship at a low-key level while waiting for the Putin era to end while developing a domestic Russian constituency for protecting Indian interests. This can then be built upon at a later time when things are more favorable to Indian interests, and this will happen over the next decade. It is not good strategy to abandon Russia altogether as the US would abuse such a strategic monopoly over India.

  5. The article resembles CIA inspired stuff . It totally negates the contribution of the former Soviet Union.
    It shows West’s mindset of “milking “ and capturing the Indian arms market which the Russian’s have upper hand currently.
    Let’s face it, West will woo & court INDIA in the present context because it needs a helping hand in countering China, nothing more, nothing less.

    Remember how West has treated Pakistan, dump it , when needed no more, a la condom ! Doesn’t it say all !

  6. Believe it or not but Russia was the biggest supporter of india in past. I don’t know why and how Gov’t failed to keep those good relations continued. May be because the government is so much focused to just keep doing their business inside the country only.
    We just can’t deny the fact that Russia is a hidden no. 1 superpower. It doesn’t showcases it’s power like USA. And it better to get Russia on our side in order to tackle the china and pakistan disputes

  7. Russia needs china for their economy running. The Modi govt too much relienc on the US is hurting indo-Russian. Relationship. There is no permanent friend or foe in the world affairs. India has to be careful about its efforts to safeguard it’s security. It’s sorrounded by hostile countries in its borders. Indian foreign policy is 100% responsible for that. If India trusts USA unconditionally that would be their biggest mistake ever. USA will throw India the moment it will feel India is no more relevant for their interest.

  8. Difficult to ignore the damage 60 years of congress rule has done to the Indian civilization, security & prosperity!!

  9. If that is the case, India still has, maybe 5-6 years untill China’s pull nd America’s push and Russia permanently in China’s lap.

    Which means India currently finds itself in the Geopolitical Goldilocks timezone where she has better relationship with 4 of the P5 nations. It is time to reap the Geopolitical Dividend (like abolition of Article 370, Chahbahar port and a viable trade route to Afghanistan and beyond) before we loose Russia.

  10. Let’s be positive. People just comment on studies and original balanced views & before retrospect comment. It’s easy to comment and make you fool to comment at ground level.

    India shook hands with America, politically strategically Ok. It felt we are not moving. Good. Russia is also feeling the same and joining hands with China. It’s because China at this movement is at upper hand. It nearly got down super power at its knees. Hence America shook hands with India dumping Pakistan. To be true it has not dumped but waiting if help it gets fight against China.

    Here only one person benefitted. China. America away from Pakistan.. China close to it.. Slowly it will take America’s place to use it’s intelligence. Here America will suffer and China will benefit. Pakistan will happily be puppet to China to teach lesson to America. Point to be noted.. Muslim countries will help at last stage wherein.. America, Russia and supporting countries will struggle to survive.. And Muslim country will dominate.. Being behind the curtains… It’s alarm bell for India also along with America and Russia. Strategically broad minded should analyse before blindly commenting. China is silent killer. It is not involving any country in its affairs, but makes it a point every other country is mentally and economically forced to think and be stressed of them and it’s policies

  11. While author analyzed the scenarios from different angles, he has no specific recommendations except saying glibly that India should understand Russian compulsions! India of course, knows the Russian compulsions and hence, India keeps trying to keep Russia on its side and yet, goes ahead with Quad, as it serves its interests. So this will go on till China behaves itself or if it does not, then Quad will become active further. Russia, like China, has very few friends and these two have to team up with the other two free loaders – North Korea and Pakistan. India should not bother much about Afghanistan as we have really not much to do there except the good work we are now doing. In fact, Pakistan in its search for strategic depth, should get into a deep strategic quagmire there and leave us free! We are dependent on Russia on 70% of defense equipment and it will take quite a while, before our dependence can reduce. Like Super Sukhoi program if it can be mostly done in India. India needs Russia for nuclear attack submarine technologies or for civil nuclear reactors.

  12. Yes Moscow increasingly sides with Beijing nowadays, it’s better for us to strengthen our ties with Washington.

  13. Sorry the Soviets didn’t had a allaince with the Nazis . That is a non aggression pact and agreement for division of Europe between them

  14. The author noted many true facts. But he simply stated that Indian policy should acknowledge these facts and adjust accordingly. He didn’t provide the future path India should take of the steps India should take.
    Whenever there is a crossroad, one should go deeper, go back to basic principles to choose which path to take. After India got independence it decided to remain independent of any group like NATO, that’s why NAM was created. But NAM couldn’t sustain itself. India under Nehru choose socialistic methods to fend its poor without which India could hardly sustain itself. It made India closer to USSR (older Russian block). But were USSR and India closer other than in defense? Was there any cultural give and take? Was there any people to people cohesion? Except defense deals, nothing happened. Even there was a mistrust; USSR’s KGB was accused of knowing when the Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri was dying in Tashkent, but they never provided any help for the reason that it’d have revealed their friendless act. Why was there such mistrust? Because of the basic difference of systems of governance: democracy versus communism. Under one-party system in communism there is authoritarianism under which lots of democratic values are never understood and never respected. Take the case of China; how it’s actions are threatening many countries in the world. So India was bound to get closer with other democracies. And now that USA realizes India’s importance in this respect, it is the right time for India to take strong steps to strengthening democratic systems world-wide.

  15. Why does it seem to me that India is being isolated ,Iran, Qatar, Malaysia, Afghanistan all leaning towards Pakistan and China, Russia already its ally . Russia was close ally to India…there has been a faulty foreighn policy from past 5 or so years … India international reputation has been hit.

    • Why do you want India to be allied with these Authoritarian dictatorial shitholes?? It’s a good thing we’re getting away from them and closer towards the west

      • Qatar is a non aligned country. You are talking about Saudi Arabia. Plus to Subhasish, USA and West are unreliable and Backstabbing nations. The moment they don’t need you they throw you away( see Pakistan which was also a former USA/ Western ally). Russia even after all these years has been a reliable ally and doesn’t backstabs like USA. Soviet Union saved our asses many times remember that , when USA and UK aligned with Pak . China has always been a traitor (1962). They are the least reliable. Soviet and China too were friends to at first before China betrayed them . Your answer is too idealistic , India is not even developed enough for democracy, and Modi has already been authoritative recently.
        Plus you should the shit that US and Western media rained at us during farmer protests. Even Chinese and Pak media also same . Does Russia do this? China and Pak we know why, but why US media if they are our so called friends that too without even understanding the situation.
        Even now India has bought Russian Sputnik which has been touted at 91.6 percent efficacy by Lancet but not Pfizer. What do you think is going on here. ???

    • Qatar allied to Pakistan??? What joke is this? Never heard of this one. You are confusing Qatar for Saudi.

  16. Excellent saurabh, of course we can’t say exactly whether history repeats every time but definitely it has a tendency to repeat.

  17. Excellent saurabh, of course we can’t say exactly whether history repeats every time but definitely it has a tendency to repeat.

  18. This article it Seems is written by a left leaning person who is very much appreciative of the Chinese hegemony. This article subtly tries to distance Russia and India from each other.
    The lines given below prove my hypothesis. Please understand that the Russians play hardball in geopolitics. They understand the geopolitical game better than the author. The reality is different. India and Russia needs each other now also . In the UNSC, Russia is a trusted friend of India. After being haunted by the West, Russia needs for sale of military equipments. Russia needs a strong India to counterbalance China. Russia inwardly will be supportive of QUAD to outsmart China.
    ‘same old relationship, which it never ever was.’ what is the meaning of this? India clearly benefitted from her relationship with the USSR. Remember 1971. This line clearly proves the writer is a pro PLA Commie. During the coldwar, two Commie giants clashed. The relationship with USSR was sort of insurance policy for India against Commie China. The USSR also benefitted from this. They could sell military equipments to India. Further , India could act as a bulwark against China by forcing China to field its army in the Indian border.
    Quote
    Moscow has its own imperatives that New Delhi should understand. Russian confrontation with the West broadly, and with the US in particular, forces Moscow to lean more heavily on Beijing. That makes India and Russia less useful to each other for some time to come. It is better to acknowledge this reality and reduce the burden of expectations than continue to act as if this is the same old relationship, which it never ever was.

    Russia has been useful to India in some ways, particularly in enhancing Indian military power. But Moscow’s political compulsion to support China is a warning that New Delhi should heed. India’s dependence on Moscow for weapons is a vulnerability that the Indian decision makers need to take more seriously.
    Unquote

  19. Depending on Russian weapons for Indian soldiers to be reduced Atmanirbhar Bharat is a great idea and followed by right spirit. India should be investing more in defence research should involve private like Tata and Reliance for time bound production plans.

  20. Seems like China paid to the writer to write this as the same sense made by global times earlier last week.

  21. Let us not forget that Russia did provide us with sophisticated Military hardware like Aircraft carrier and Submarines.
    In view of tensions created by China, Russia has to understand India’s interest and consequent actions that presently, may not indicate a drift from our relationship with them.

  22. Writer feels India is dependent on America, Russia, China etc,…. It’s time we depend on ourselves. But the is still in 19 hundreds and wants the status Co to be maintained. If writer is an Indian citizen I suggest him to think as an Indian, not a commie / BJP /Cong etc..

  23. Print is a media backed by sonia congress. They are trying to bring enmity between India and Russia. The Indian Express did the same thing. Anti national media

  24. Difficult to sustain US military without petrodollars US wouldn’t have reached number one status without Petroleum from 1950s till date India’s Policy Makers must take this to account

  25. Why the print finds and why only the print finds such type of negative news which put India at a loosing end in one or another way

  26. You see only with Anti India eyes.
    Discouraging the indian efforts to maintain good relations with other nations.

    Foreign policy by large will not change by parties.
    Your view will change with parties.

    • Russia need money which India and China have. They sold sophisticated technology to China for money. China progressed technologically because of Russian technology. Likewise India should also buy technology from Russia. Whatever u say America and western countries never share most modern technology to any country leave alone India. For example we got cryogenic technology from Russia and now we are a leader in satellite launching countries. We set up so many defence projects with the help of Russia. We cannot write off Russia overnight for the sake of western countries. Our smartness lies in getting most modern technology from Russia for money or otherwise. Russia need money which we have. Let us make a deal.

  27. The author doesn’t make sense. Consider his statement ” Moscow’s game may be designed to undermine the US’ role in the region or to ensure that Washington and China continue to scuffle, for that is what serves Russia best. But it does not serve India at all “. So according to the author a scuffle between China and the US doesn’t serve India. Seriously? Does he wish to say that US and China being on the same page as they were for so many years during the Cold war, ganging up against India, served India better? The truth is that for Russia, India serves as a hedge against China, besides being a market for it’s weapons. International relations do not necessarily fit into neat binaries as the author thinks.

    • He’s trying to say that Russian interest to undermine American influence is not good for India. The way he worded it was kind of ambiguous but it’s not very hard to understand what he was trying to say if you try to think it in the context of the entire article.

    • Another complete piece of crap by Print. Shekhar Gupta and his team are self certified to be world’s biggest experts in foreign relations, geopolitics and international diplomacy. Next ‘Rajeev Sharma of Print’ will take this report to Russian Embassy, Chinese Embassy, American Embassy

    • Let’s be positive. People just comment on studies and original balanced views & before retrospect comment. It’s easy to comment and make you fool to comment at ground level.

      India shook hands with America, politically strategically Ok. It felt we are not moving. Good. Russia is also feeling the same and joining hands with China. It’s because China at this movement is at upper hand. It nearly got down super power at its knees. Hence America shook hands with India dumping Pakistan. To be true it has not dumped but waiting if help it gets fight against China.

      Here only one person benefitted. China. America away from Pakistan.. China close to it.. Slowly it will take America’s place to use it’s intelligence. Here America will suffer and China will benefit. Pakistan will happily be puppet to China to teach lesson to America. Point to be noted.. Muslim countries will help at last stage wherein.. America, Russia and supporting countries will struggle to survive.. And Muslim country will dominate.. Being behind the curtains… It’s alarm bell for India also along with America and Russia. Strategically broad minded should analyse before blindly commenting. China is silent killer. It is not involving any country in its affairs, but makes it a point every other country is mentally and economically forced to think and be stressed of them and it’s policies

    • Well i only want to know how can you developed this english writing skill and i am pretty sure that you may also have some speaking fluency to.
      So please sir/mam tell me the secret of your english

  28. After India started procuring weapon systems more and more from the West, there has been some alienation between Russia and India. Sometimes, especially in the matter of joint exercises, Russia has leaned in favour of Pakistan also as a message to India. China and Russia need each other more than Russia and India need each other. The writer has sounded a timely warning. Russophiles in the EAM should take this warning seriously, if they have not already done so.

  29. India and Russia must remember the year of 1971 and try to make more powerful relationship than Chinese and Americans.

  30. Do people remember that Soviet Union had a Military Alliance with Nazi Germany. They believed that Germany will never attack them. They thought they had some kind of leverage which others didn’t. History repeats itself.

  31. Let’s just hope that the Russia-China border conflicts increase. Maybe that’ll drive a small (but probably insufficient) wedge between then?

    • Russia had said once regarding friendship between them that they consider vChina as a brother whereas India just a friend it’s bcoz they share common idealogy.Nehru knew it well so he sought American help during 1962 war.Modi followed Nehru.

      • And we lost 1962….we must grow wiser.
        And not to mention we have long standing diplomatic and people to people and also business links with Russia. Its a impractical article from a immature man who was mostly paid for by the forces which want to dismantle india-russia relations.

        DR. Shringhla recently made a simple and clear statement saying india and Russia relationship is mature enough to navigate the current situation. And not to forget india has a firm ally in Russia.

        They supply us weapons, diplomatic aid, and also act as a counterbalance in BRICS, UN and also UNHRC, and also side with us at many forums.

        No article can ever reduce the importance of the Russian influence in india.

        And Russia and India are in the same boat. Both want to become major powers and both have major rivals.. We have all the more ground to unite, Russians don’t like to be anyone’s B team. It’s a false assumption.

        India – Russia ties will get stronger due to india looking to export weapons made by both nations abroad like Brahmos to nations like Phillipines, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and African nations.

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