2017 marks the 70th year of Indo-Russia diplomatic ties. The two nations have accorded each other other a “Special and Privileged” status, as their relationship has stood the test of time. Beginning during the cold war era, India-Russia ‘friendship’ has been strong and constant. However, unfortunately, the recent trends in international politics have not been inspiring as both the countries ‘seem’ to be gradually drifting away from each other. In order to break the ice, two senior ministers of Indian government namely Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj recently visited Russia. The Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, visited Sochi, where she attended the annual summit of Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO), a grouping whose permanent members India and Pakistan became in June 2017. Before this, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had been to a three day visit to Russia from November 26th to 29th. During his visit, Singh signed various agreements with Russia, with the pact on cooperation to tackle ‘all forms of terrorism’ being the highlight. While these recent overtures from India have been long overdue, a growing debate has spurred regarding the divergence of interests between the two nations. Thus it becomes quintessential to analyze these recent trends in order to understand the scope or future of this strategic partnership.
Why we are here today?
At the height of Cold war in 1960s and 70s – a period when Russia was truly a superpower and India a poor and underdeveloped nation, the former stood firm by the latter, to encounter the US-Pak-China nexus. The 1971 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries marked the high point of their relationship. However, with the disintegration of USSR and the domestic changes which followed the demise of Soviet Union had a profound impact on transforming this relationship. It was the period of early and mid 1990s when Russia virtually seemed to become a part of the US camp. During Boris Yeltsin’s regime in the 1990s, Russia as many experts argue, abandoned India. Given the hostility that India had maintained with the US during the cold war, it was indeed a period of crisis for India’s foreign policy as it found itself ‘friend-less’ in an increasingly hostile International environment. Thus, naturally now India started to diversify its relations, with special focus on the US. Since then, 25 years have gone by and today in 2017, it goes without saying that India has cemented a very strong strategic alliance with the US as both seem to be pursuing common goals on varied fronts. Also, both the countries share common values like democracy, liberalism, commitment to freedom of people etc. However, this growing convergence of Indian and US’s interests has not been the only change in world politics during this period. With the consolidation of power by President Putin in Russia, it (Russia) has also started to re-assert itself. The Crimean annexation followed by the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 signaled a resurgence of Cold war 2.0. These developments accompanied by the ever increasing economic, political and now military clout of China and the US attempts to ‘balance’ it through other Asian giants like India and Japan have also had a direct impact on the bilateral relationship between India and Russia. All this along with growing distance between Russia and US in the recent months, fueled by the accusations of Russia’s involvement in 2016 Presidential Elections in US, and growing suspicion between India and China since the Doklam crisis have further intensified the animosities. Today, the world again seems to be divided into two camps, one under the US, whose part India has tacitly become and the other led by China, whose part willingly or unwillingly Russia has become. Although Russia after North Korea, is still the most urgent threat for US, but the reality is that in the long term, it is China which is the real rival for the US. China with its new declared policy (after the 19th Party Congress) of asserting itself at the world stage, poses the biggest challenge to US hegemony. Moreover, US policies of imposing sanctions on Russia have also contributed in the latter embracing the Chinese umbrella. So are the days of India-Russia friendship over ?
It is beyond any doubt that the best of the relationship is over. What is crucial today therefore from India’s perspective is to prevent the relationship from further sliding down the slope. For India the most urgent need is to check the growing closeness between Pakistan and Russia. While many believe that India should not worry much about their growing closeness, but if India continues to ignore Russia, then sooner or later, Russia will move ahead in embracing Pakistan. While going ahead with its ties with America, it is in India’s interests to mend relations with Russia. This is because, Russia has been the only country so far which has not been averse to technological transfer to India. Western countries despite of their enhanced engagement with India have always been reluctant in sharing the best technology with India. Also, if Russia (along with Pakistan) outrightly goes for supporting Taliban in Afghanistan, then it may be a security threat to Kashmir. To sum up, the recent visit of high dignitaries to Russia, although belated but is a step in the right direction. It is time that we remember the old saying, “An old friend is better than 100 new ones”.
-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh
Picture Credits: olivegreens.co.in