Friday, 19 August, 2022
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India thinks it’s safe, but Russia is getting close to China. Non-aligned days should be back

New Delhi should be aware of Russia’s engagements with India’s adversary—China. It can't treat its friends and foes alike.

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Nostalgia, memories, and finer aspects of New Delhi’s historic relationship with Moscow—dating back to the days of the Non-Aligned Movement—were revisited last week when Russian President Vladimir Putin came to Delhi with a long list of defence merchandise for sale. Besides the Quad partners, Russia now becomes the fourth country with which India will have a 2+2 format dialogue status. The six-hour summit between the leaders of the two emerging economies coming at a very significant time in the region ended with the signing of nearly 28 agreements and a joint statement.

The overwhelming emphasis on military hardware and strategic state-run projects—owned and operated by the respective states—is reminiscent of the public sector days during the non-aligned era of the rupee-ruble trade. India has moved far ahead and wound up most of its public sector undertakings, while Moscow continues to keep a strong government control over trade. New Delhi will have to overcome this mismatch and include more bilateral trade deals in the coming days.

Besides trade and commercial institutions, New Delhi has also moved away from the constraints of non-alignment by entering into bilateral agreements with the Quad countries and others on intelligence sharing—pertaining to logistics, security, and strategic maritime interests. Being part of the intelligence and security framework of the West will not go very well with the old and trusted non-alignment partner. How best the national capital is able to work with the two power structures with different timelines is yet to be seen.

Also read: These are the 28 agreements India, Russia signed at summit-level talks

Russia’s support to India’s adversaries 

Moscow’s not-so-concealed willingness to sell military hardware to Islamabad gives strength to Pakistan’s anti-India activities, ostensibly blamed on non-state actors present there. It is no secret that a bulk of Pakistan’s military muscle is used against India and the groups in Baluchistan, who are seeking freedom from Islamabad and raising their voice against Beijing’s unrestricted exploitation of their land and the Gwadar port.

New Delhi should be aware of Russia’s engagements with India’s adversary—or rather, bête noire—China. The two have a thirty-year energy security agreement settled between them. It includes an 8,000-km-long gas pipeline from Siberia to China. The Power of Siberia added a new ‘Eastern’ dimension to cross the border energy trade between Russia and China. Ironically, the agreement was activated in the first week of December 2019, exactly two years before Putin’s Delhi visit last week. The geopolitical significance of the Russia-China camaraderie in the context of a strong Eurasia should not be lost on the strategic community in India.

Also read: Putin’s 5-hr visit, 2+2 talks strengthen India and Russia’s ‘special, privileged strategic’ ties

India can’t see friends and foes alike

As far as India is concerned, both China and Pakistan pose a great challenge to its security in the west and the north. In the emerging global order, it will have to align with countries that would be on New Delhi’s side when the need arises. The Indian defence and security establishment has made no secret of its concerns. Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari has said, “China poses a significant and long-term challenge to India’s strategic goals. Both the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) have enhanced their military capabilities in equipment and infrastructure.”

One hopes that New Delhi has briefed Moscow about these challenges. Considering the compulsions of regional challenges, the former will ill afford to stick to its non-alignment framework while dealing with friends and foes alike.

Latest reports indicate that Russia has increased its troop presence near Ukraine’s border, amplifying the tensions to a much higher degree. It is also reported to have moved a strong army contingent to its border with Belarus in Ukraine’s north. The US’s attempts to include Kiev into the larger North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) group has brought the two Cold War-era rivals on a path of conflict. The eyeball to eyeball situation on the Russia-Ukraine border is a flashpoint that helps no one. True to its non-alignment parameters, New Delhi has maintained a stoic silence on the conflict. In the event of the conflict escalating, the global focus would again shift to power posturing in Eurasia, necessitating it to take a clearer stand.

Also read: Putin’s visit is a defining moment for India-Russia ties. It’s a telling message to China

India remains multipolar, but that’s in danger too

In the existing circumstances, India prefers to remain multipolar in the larger global power equation. Its view on the United Nations (UN) structural reforms hinges on its lack of efficacy in resolving emerging global flashpoints. Articulating New Delhi’s views, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had observed last year that genuine multilateralism, which emerged after the Second World War, is in serious danger. “We are seeing more and more balance of interests, the bigger countries even more so really being very much focused on their own interests,” he added.

The post-Cold War world has come a long way in reframing the global order. While its core principles will still remain within the parameters of freedom, human rights, and a balanced order within a democratic framework, the grip on geography has given way to tighter control over trade, commerce, industry, communication techniques, and institutions. India had adapted to these new-age techniques and institutions much better and faster than many of its NAM partners. In a changing world scenario, especially in the post-pandemic emerging world order, New Delhi will need to balance more on its adherence to the principles of NAM and multilateralism. They might not be in conflict with each other as far as the core features are concerned, but they certainly are not the same.

The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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