Redesigning Indo-Russian friendship

Arun Srivastava 

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]oth PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin badly needed the informal summit. If India needed a positive move towards strengthening bilateral relations, Russia desired a clear assurance about firming up of cooperation, including in defence, as well as global issues of common concern.

Although both the leaders agreed that they had the responsibility of maintaining global peace and stability, Modi was quite ecstatic of the outcome. He described his discussion with Putin as extremely productive. The change in the tone and tenor of his observation was important. His invoking former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at least seven times in his opening remarks made it clear that he expected more from Russia.

Modi saying the strategic partnership between India and Russia has been elevated to a “special privileged strategic partnership” has wider implications. Interestingly, the two leaders are yet to deliberate on extending the Indo-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation to third countries. Russia had nursed the feeling that India would speak out its mind on the US sanction against Moscow. The US had imposed the sanctions earlier this year under CAATSA for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

It is perceived in the diplomatic circles that Modi’s current Russia visit is different from the previous ones. Putin’s invitation to Modi came within two weeks of his re-election as President. While the special and privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia is an important factor for global peace and stability, India will have to stop suspecting Russian intentions and moves. It is good that they recognised each other’s respective roles as major powers with the common responsibilities of maintaining global peace and stability. The proceedings of the summit, however, makes one doubt whether India intends to use the outcome as a leverage tool to extract more from the US.

It is not yet clear to what extent both the countries will use the friendship and trust between them to create convergence on key global and regional issues. India must take the outcome in its proper stride. Instead of looking on uncomfortably as Russia develops closer links with China and Pakistan, it must assess its attitude in the proper perspective.

The news from across the border that, while Russia has promised to improve defence ties with Pakistan, the Putin government is keen on improving its South Asia relations and take its traditional strategic partnership with India to a new height must be reassuring to Delhi. This is in sharp contrast to the perception that Russia has been against India’s interests by providing patronage and protection to Pakistan. This made Delhi look at Russia with suspicion and as a friend of its strategic avowed enemy.

Modi must refrain from looking at the Indo-Russian relationship from the skewed prism of Sangh ideology and perspective. Delhi must realise that an Islamic state such as Pakistan is not in the interests of Russia. The Indian bureaucracy and policy-makers are so heavily inclined towards the West that they turn and twist the facts to decry Russia. They are using the Russian arms sale to Pakistan as part of this strategy. Although India’s US friends caution Delhi by inflating its fears over Russian arms supply to Islamabad, they prefer to maintain stoic silence on the US giving Pakistan more than $45 billion in aid over the past 15 years. At the time of considerable tension in ties between Russia and the West, there is a stronger incentive for Russia to develop the non-Western vectors of its foreign relations.

Strong economic, diplomatic and military support from China to Pakistan is an irritant for both India and Russia. A standoff in the border region between the two countries would adversely affect Russia. India and Russia have been trying to increase bilateral trade for the past two decades in order to develop a more positive relationship. India is the biggest market for foreign arms in the world; and Russia has traditionally been among its largest suppliers. But, in recent months, India has increasingly started depending on the US and Israel for weapons. A string of military contracts has gone to the two Western suppliers, disappointing Moscow.

India, in the changed global perspective, must effectively respond to structural and geopolitical shifts and learn the skills to adjust to changing power dynamics. In recent times, the geopolitical realities in the region have been changing. India ought to realise that its relationship with Russia has been a stabilising factor in a fast-changing regional and global order. India must continue to play this proactive role.

(The writer is a political commentator)