National Interest In Geopolitics

Guided By National Interest in Tricky Geopolitics

National Interest In Geopolitics

What happens when a friend hobnobbing with your adversary sees you as a ‘guarantor’ of its relationship with the latter?

While praising India’s prime minister recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned that Russia-China relations were “continuously developing in all directions, and the main guarantee of this is the policy of Prime Minister Modi”.

India has gone past last century’s ‘bhai-bhai’ relationship with both. It now appears to view Russia as a ‘cousin’, but China as its adversary. It is a good thought, but in the fast-changing geopolitical situation in India’s extended neighbourhood, it is uncertain how far the India-Russia relationship can impact India-China ties.

Of course, Putin’s current thought is about India’s approach to the conflict in Ukraine. And Modi cannot ignore that partly because of it, Moscow’s close ties with Beijing growing closer.

Putin praised Modi stating that he was ‘surprised’ at Modi’s “tough stance” in safeguarding India’s national interests. He also emphasised that PM Modi’s policy is “a guarantee of deep relations” between New Delhi and Moscow.

He spoke two days after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar recalled that in the past Russia “had saved us many times.” He also referred to historical aspects of the engagement: “If you look at the Eurasian landmass, it makes sense that India and Russia would have strong relations because it is following the first principle of politics of your neighbour’s neighbour.”

Note the pattern taking place around December, year after year, since Putin first became Russia’s President at the end of 1999. He told then defence minister George Fernandes: “Please tell the Indian people, they have their best friend in me” – or words to that effect. Putin’s presence in Russia has been constant since. With some gaps though, India-Russia Summits have taken place in or around each December. Sure enough, Moscow has indicated a Modi-Putin meeting soon.

Jaishankar does not mince words and is often criticised for it by the Western quarters (reflected by some Indian ones) who point to the growing disquiet over strong India-Russia ties amidst the war in Ukraine. This is even though India has continued to purchase Russian armaments and oil at a concessional rate. Last year’s trenchant criticism of India’s role has more or less died down at the end of 2023.

ALSO READ: ‘2024 Will Be About Russia, China, Modi…’

Jaishankar has sought to refute the impression that India was ‘over-dependent’ on Russia and that their relationship was a ‘handicap’. “This relationship has saved us many times. If we are over-dependent or not, actually at the end of the day it depends on us.”

Endorsing Jaishankar on why India did not support the UN resolution castigating Russia for an “attack” on Ukraine, Prof K N Pandita, a former director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University writes in The Eurasia Times (December 8, 2023): “voting for or against Russia in controversial global issues is not strictly based on euphoric friendship; it is undoubtedly based on ground realities and pragmatism, among the fundamentals of astute statesmanship.”

Times and the contexts, though, have changed. Nobody talks of an India-Russia-China alliance as was done in the 1990s. India and China have turned adversaries in recent years and the border tensions plus China-Pakistan relations have added to India consolidating its ties with the West, especially the United States, as never before. And yet it is keen to retain its options.

There is history that India is reminded of, even as it forges close ties with the US. Defence analyst and a former Indian military pilot, VK Thakur points out that on December 5, 1971, the-then US President Richard Nixon ordered the nuclear-powered and armed aircraft carrier of the US 7th fleet – USS Enterprise – to sail into the Bay of Bengal to intervene in the ongoing India-Pakistan conflict in support of Pakistan. The US hoped to stop the advance of the Indian Army on Dhaka. And if that did not prove possible, to extricate Pakistani forces trapped in East Pakistan – now Bangladesh.”

The principal architect of this ‘tilt’ was Henry Kissinger who passed away recently, leaving behind a polarized legacy without a word of remorse for the impact of his actions on the Bengali people or, for that matter, the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Chile – it is a long list. In the changed times, the new generation of people in these countries have left behind those experiences.

Be it Ukraine or Gaza, the unease of the Western world is unlikely to lessen on the likely Indian moves, now and in the future, on India-Russia-America relationships. Hence, it is important to understand an American viewpoint– albeit one of the many, even if it is by Rajan Menon, an Indian scholar.

Writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Menon states: “By refusing to join the Western sanctions regime, India has demonstrated that it intends to pursue an independent foreign policy guided by its interests. The Indian-U.S. security relationship is relatively new and untested. The US’s Cold War alliance with Pakistan and its rapprochement with China in the 1970s have left a legacy of mistrust among Indian policymakers. By contrast, though, it will lose the depth it had during the Cold War. The India-Russia relationship has endured for over two generations and has served them well, including in difficult times.

“India has no reason to forsake the multiple benefits it has received from a decades-long relationship with Russia, and it would be a mistake to expect that it will do so, no matter the growing tensions between Russia and the West,” Menon states.

However, he points out: “The balance in Russian-Indian relations is shifting decidedly toward New Delhi. Russia’s break with the West and ever-closer ties with China as a result of the war against Ukraine will make sustaining its partnership with India more challenging.

What do India-Russia ties mean to the Indo-US relationship? Menon writes: “Whether Washington’s relationship with New Delhi thrives or proves disappointing will depend on the extent to which it benefits both parties rather than on the degree to which the United States succeeds in pushing India away from Russia. The future of the Indian-Russian relationship will have its own logic, determined increasingly by India, and can be shaped at best only at the margins by the United States.”

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Kusum Choppra
Kusum Choppra
3 months ago

Balance should be the name of the game. But, are we?

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