(ORF: Expert Speak)
Dec 2: What Putins visit means for India-Russia ties – https://www.orfonline.org/research/what-putins-visit-means-for-india-russia-ties/
- GS-2: India and Russia
Putins visit & India-Russia ties
Context: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is arriving in India on December 6 for the traditional annual summit between leaders of India and Russia. This visit is a year overdue, postponed last year because of the Covid pandemic.
- The visit comes at a time of increased speculation about the future of India-Russia ties and hopefully will provide some answers to that vexing question.
- After meeting USA, Putin is stepping out only to meet India – indicating that his visit is not about just maintaining the “special, privileged strategic partnership” with India but deepening bilateral ties.
- The summit will be preceded by the recently instituted 2+2 dialogue between the defence and foreign minister of the two countries.
- The economic Joint Commission is also set to meet before Modi and Putin sit down for their talks.
- There is also a rich panoply of defence and economic agreements lined up.
India and Russia recently
The relationship in the past couple of years has seen many symbolic gestures from both sides.
- Putin in 2019 bestowed the Order of St Andrew on Modi, who is the only foreign dignitary to receive this highest Russian decoration.
- Moscow also shed its ‘neutrality” between India and China to support New Delhi at the UN in the aftermath of the decision to abrogate Article 370 as well as expedite weapons to India during the border tensions with China in the Himalayas in 2020.
- India has reciprocated in the United Nations, most recently, by supporting Russia on Crimea and co-sponsoring a resolution on fighting against glorification of Nazism.
- Additionally, the Russians value India’s resolve to buy the S-400 Air Defence system, despite the threat of US sanctions.
- In the past two years Russia has reclaimed the top spot as India’s arms supplier, while actively seeking to engage with the ‘Make in India’ programme, energy cooperation is growing rapidly, new areas of pharmaceuticals, ceramics, chemicals, high-tech industry, cyber, digital finance, are being explored to boost economic ties.
- India has promised to contribute to the development of Russia’s Far East – highlighting this commitment with the first-ever one-billion-dollar credit line to promote Indian business in the region.
However, despite substantial progress in the past couple of years, it is self-evident that the bilateral relationship cannot be insulated from the strategic and economic churn taking place in international affairs.
Few areas of differences
- Indo-Pacific concept: First, a differing understanding of the Indo-Pacific concept and the re-emergence of the Quad — comprising Australia, Japan, the US, and India — should not be allowed to grow into a major obstacle. Russia has been sceptical about the concept of the Indo-Pacific, which is being seen as a US strategy to contain China, and maybe even Russia.
- However, there is a growing debate among Russia’s elites about the Indo-Pacific concept and a growing appreciation that there are several versions of the idea and that India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific differs from the one enunciated by the United States.
- Russia’s elites were already discussing the need for Russia to increase its engagement in the Indian Ocean region, where they believe India plays an important role. Russian strategists believe that signing the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS) during Putin’s visit and greater diplomatic contact in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) will strengthen this process.
- Afghanistan and Pakistan: The second area of divergence, till recently, was Afghanistan. But the messy US withdrawal and Taliban coming to power in Kabul, have brought India and Russia closer, even though some nuances may remain. Linked to this is the growing Russian involvement with Pakistan that disturbs India.
- Lack of trust involving their respective strategic partners: India with the US and Russia with China. However, there is an overarching shared goal that should help India and Russia overcome all issues of trust. New Delhi and Moscow abhor the idea of the emergence of a hegemon or a dominant power in Asia or Europe. It is this common understanding that should motivate a vibrant India-Russia partnership to ensure a multipolar Asia and Europe.
- Economic Relationship: Despite the promise it holds, trade is abysmally low when compared to India’s trade with the US or Russia’s trade with China. Efforts are being made by India to increase its engagement with the Russian economy. This is reciprocated by Russia’s eagerness to participate in the Make in India programme. There is a rich history of successful joint ventures from Bhilai to Brahmos. Economic ties are primarily government to government.
The Way Forward
- Both Russia and India are cosying up to different partners involved in the geo-political rivalry between US and China – the first is a primary adversary of Russia and the second India’s main opponent. In this context, it is important that close dialogue be maintained between New Delhi and Moscow to maximise convergences and minimise divergences.
- Without private sector involvement, Indo-Russian economic ties will find it difficult to grow beyond a point. The business elites of the two countries are remarkably ill-informed about each other. There is an urgent need to set up bilateral networks to overcome the dependence on Western media for information about one another.
Can you answer the following questions?
- India and Russia should be able to write themselves into each other’s national development stories to guarantee a warm and long friendship. Discuss.