New Delhi: Russia is no longer a strategic ally for India as underlined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to New Delhi earlier this week, said ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in episode 720 of ‘Cut the Clutter’ Thursday.
Lavrov arrived in New Delhi Monday and held talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar about defence cooperation among other aspects of bilateral ties. He also laid the groundwork for a bilateral summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the national capital, later this year.
Gupta explained that over the last four years, the global power balance has changed. “It’s been a confused world for the past four years, but it’s now quite clear that it is again becoming a bipolar world.”
The United States is one pole and China is the other pole. Meanwhile, Russia has resigned itself to being “the junior partner of China”, observed Gupta. India is an aspiring big power and the world is increasingly looking at it as a “balancing new power”, he added
‘What was America has now become Russia’
Gupta explained that during the Cold War, India was very friendly with what was then the Soviet Union as it helped grow its public sector steel plants with advanced technology, among other things. Now, after a few lows in the bilateral relationship with Russia, Putin has been able to put it back on an “even keel”, he observed.
“Since Vajpayee came to power, we have seen the India-US relationship get warmer and stronger and the relationship with Russia becoming more transactional,” said Gupta.
For decades, India had wanted Washington D.C. to de-hyphenate it with Pakistan and put an end to the concept of “two country rule”, explained Gupta. “Post Cold War, Indian foreign policy worked very hard to get these two things out of the way as they would irritate India,” explained Gupta. This has worked out well as Pakistan has started to disappear from India-US joint statements and American dignitaries who come to India no longer also make a trip to Pakistan, he added.
“But what was America, has now become Russia,” said Gupta. Though Moscow and New Delhi have shared a “special” relationship with elements of “nostalgia”, the former has started to hyphenate India with Pakistan, he said. “This became obvious with Lavrov’s visit,” he added.
Lavrov first visited India and then Pakistan and his statements in both countries were markedly different, explained Gupta. While in Pakistan, Lavrov said Russia sees Pakistan as an “important friend”, seeks to continue exercises called ‘friendship druzhba’ and is willing to supply Pakistan high-tech or specialised military equipment to fight terrorism.
Asked about a potential security agreement between Russia and China at a press conference in India, earlier this week, Lavrov denied it but referred to alliances like the “Asia NATO” as disruptive, said Gupta. “That was a platitudinous statement… you know that he was turning the knife a little bit into India,” he added.
Gupta also observed that Lavrov did not get an audience with PM Modi on the pretext that the former was campaigning in West Bengal. “In January 2020, when Lavrov came to India, he had been given an audience by Modi. On the other hand, when he goes to Pakistan, he meets… the Army Chief who matters most of all, and the Prime Minister.’’
So if anything, “he [Lavrov] had much more ceremony about his visit to Pakistan,” said Gupta.
India’s reliance on Russia for military supplies may change with France factor
Citing a paper by Stimson Center titled “The Influence of Arms: Explaining the Durability of India-Russia Alignment”, Gupta said that over 80 per cent of India’s military hardware is still Russian.
“In fact, if India goes to war with anybody right now… all the tanks will be regimes that will be T-72s and T-90s,” said Gupta. “Two-thirds of combat Indian Air Force will be of Russian origin which are Sukhois and the various MiGs.”
But, he pointed out, that although a nuclear-powered submarine has been routinely leased to India by Russia, the growing India-France relationship for military supplies may change this. “Meanwhile, Russia’s dependence on China now is extreme as China is a market for a lot of Russian military technology,” Gupta revealed.
‘Russia compliments China’s power against America and its friends’
“It [Russia] is a big military power… but in no other area does it have parity with either America or China,” said Gupta.
It has “alienated the Germans” over what it has done in Ukraine, caught the world’s attention over its treatment of dissident Alex Navalny and upset Britain after, allegedly, poisoning a former Russian spy in the UK,’’ he explained.
With Russia now “resigned to being the junior partner of China”, it reflects the new global balance of power, with America on one side and China on the other, said Gupta. “Russia supplements or compliments China’s power against America and its friends,” he added.
When Lavrov interacted with Jaishankar, the latter used the expression ‘Indo-Pacific’ while the former used the phrase ‘Asia Pacific’. Gupta said this could not have been casual as Lavrov has spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka, Maldives and South Asia.
“Russians have let it be known that they are skeptical of the Indo-Pacific concept and Quad and see it as a destabilising entity.. .and an anti-China grouping,” said Gupta.
Watch the full episode here: