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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

Is Russian-Indian Relationship Really in Disrepair?

Saturday 10 June 2017, by M K Bhadrakumar


The discourses in the Indian media over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia within the framework of the annual summit meetings between the two leaderships have taken a bizarre turn. Modi is being caricatured as something of a car mechanic travelling to St. Petersburg with his tool kit to “repair” the India-Russia relationship.

Even more bizarre is that the guys in Carnegie India and Brookings India have been in the forefront of the lamentations over the state of affairs in India-Russia relations. Carnegie is a Cold War relic and Brookings Institution has a reputation of having links to the Central Intelligence Agency. They may pretend they are giving expert opinion, but are in reality shaping the Indian narrative in foreign policies.

Why is the government tolerating these Trojan horses’ attempts to erode the foundations of India-Russia relations? It should ask these self-styled experts to focus on the “defining partnership” between India and the United States. At least, President Vladimir Putin is a caring friend of India. Can it be said about the current POTUS? The man hasn’t even cared to extend an invitation to Modi to visit the White House. What is his problem with Modi? Why should he treat the Indian Prime Minister as if he is an outcaste?

The Prime Minister of Vietnam was feted by POTUS in the White House yesterday. Look at the Asian who have been hosted by POTUS —President of China, Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister of Australia. Standing in the queue are the President of the Philippines, newly-elected President of South Korea and the Prime Ministers of Thailand and Singapore. The guys in Carnegie India and Brookings India have enough stuff on their plate to give expert opinion instead of raising dust over India’s relations with Russia and being opinion-makers on the Indian Prime Minister’s visits abroad.

Now, putting things in perspective, is the India-Russia relationship in such a bad state of disrepair as is suggested through the motivated campaign by the US lobbyists in Delhi and their hangers-on in the Indian media? Let us look at the problem areas. They essentially narrow down to a single template—Russia’s relations with China and Pakistan.

What are the facts here? The bilateral Russia-China trade totalled $ 69.7 billion in 2016. The corresponding figure for US-China trade is $ 578.6 billion. Why should India worry if Russia has trade relations similar in volume to India’s with China—or, that the US has a flourishing relationship with China? Should India set pre-conditions that the US should roll back its ties with China (or Pakistan)?

At any rate, why should India bother about the “new type of relationship” between the US and China? Why should India lose sleep that the Americans are in such deep debt to the Chinese? Why should India worry about the US-Pakistan relations? Why should India take umbrage that the US or Russia would have foreign office consultations with Pakistan—or hold military exercises? Hasn’t India held exercises with the US in the waters near the Russian Far East?

India has dealt with dangerous situations in regional security in the past when the US beefed up Pakistan militarily or when Pakistan waged wars against India using weaponry that the Americans had provided as military aid. Fortunately, India is a much stronger power today and has no reason to fear foreign aggression.

Arguably, if a friendly country like Russia can use its influence with China and/or Pakistan, it can even be turned to India’s advantage. Unlike the Americans, Russia can be trusted. There is constancy in the Russian friendship. There is always willingness to share the best they have in military technology and to regard India as an equal partner. The Americans simply do not have any record of treating any country on equal terms, including even their Anglo-Saxon allies.

Similarly, why should India get agitated over Russia’s proactive role in Afghanistan? What is wrong if Russia has opened lines of communi-cation to the Taliban? Didn’t the US and its Western allies have had dealings with the Taliban for the past several years? The Taliban opened a representative office in Qatar four-five years ago to deal with American operatives in secrecy.

Besides, India’s own antipathy toward the Afghan Taliban is past history. Today, India too accepts that a national reconciliation is needed in Afghanistan. The question is on what terms. India understands that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan and is desperately trying to stave off a Vietnam-like defeat. The Russians are doing the right thing to work on a peace process because if the Americans summarily run away from Afghanistan, which they are quite capable of, the debris will only fall on the entire region, including Russia.

It is entirely conceivable that during the periodic consultations of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in Moscow—twice in the recent months alone—the Russian side took him into confidence about American intentions in Afghanistan—their hidden agenda to use the ISIS as its instrument of regional policy to destabilise Central Asia (on lines similar to what the US did in Syria). Why else did India take part in the Moscow conference on Afghanistan?

Russia does not panic about India’s “defining partnership” with the US. Nor is it prescriptive toward India. The Russian-Indian relations provide enough space for both sides to pursue their national interests and to develop their regional strategies optimally. The bottom-line is that it is not a transactional relationship like the one between the US and India.

What is happening is that an orchestrated campaign is afoot to debunk the India-Russia relationship. This is a familiar CIA ploy— weakening the anchor-sheet of strategic autonomy of other countries so as to dispirit them and make them subservient to American strategies. The pivotal relationship with Russia has given Indian foreign policy much strategic depth and its platinum grade quality of mutual trust is what counts most, especially in the prevailing international situation characterised by great uncertainties. So long as things remain this way, India retains the capacity to pursue independent foreign policies. That is the crux of the matter.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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