Author : Samir Saran

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Nov 12, 2018
India will not politically prefer Russia to the US — rather it must learn to work with both. In the Indo-Pacific, India’s equities lie with Washington, who’s economic and security presence can balance China’s rise. In Eurasia, Moscow will be its most important partner.
For a multipolar Eurasia, Russia must cooperate with India

This interview originally appeared on Russia TV.

India is buying Russia’s S-400 air defence system, and only recently the USA sanctioned China for it. What can India expect now?

Samir Saran: Given President Trump’s rather vague response on the question of exemptions for India, it is clear that the foreign policy establishment in Washington is still uncertain on how to proceed.

Having said that, India is both an attractive market for American arms dealers, and is the lynchpin of America’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy. Both weapons manufacturers and the strategic community in Washington will probably weigh in favour of India.

Whatever the near term consequences for India, therefore, Washington will be compelled to accommodate India’s interests in the long term.

What are the military reasons for India to want to buy the S-400 from Russia at all?

SS: The S-400 is a sophisticated anti-access/area denial missile system — a platform that no other country is likely to provide India, not even Washington. It will act as a crucial force multiplier in India’s border areas.

In addition to signing the S-400 agreement, economic and energy policy decisions were also taken. What was discussed in detail and what was agreed?

SS: For me, the important takeaway was Russia’s offer to allow India to participate in energy and trade projects in the Arctic. This is an emerging, if often ignored, theatre of geopolitics. There will be a race to exploit the regions commercial opportunity and to define its governance architecture. It remains to be seen what India’s response to this will be. I hope the mandarins in New Delhi see the strategic importance of being a stakeholder in this geography.

What are the geopolitical considerations of the USA be if they were to make an exception in the case of India with waiver? After all, India is one of the most important geopolitical players in the Sino-Pacific region alongside China and Russia.

SS: In the long term, India is an invaluable partner for Washington. Indeed by mid-century, India will emerge as one of the world’s largest economies — a process that will foster a gradual and organic rise in its strategic capabilities.

Two expectations will underpin Washington’s choices going forward. First, that investing in India’s defense industry will help Delhi balance China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific. And second, that India will eventually be able to anchor democratic norms and free trade in Asia by its own desires and design.

Some analysts claim that Russia is gradually beginning to change its position on the Kashmir issue because of growing cooperation with Pakistan. To what extent is this true and is there a realistic chance that India will politically prefer Russia to the US in the future?

SS: Russia is not changing its position on Kashmir — Moscow’s courtship of Pakistan is based on two realities. First, that Pakistan will remain an interlocutor in Afghanistan, and will be important to Russia’s ambitions in Central Asia. Second, geopolitical equations in the region are changing rapidly — and just as India is reaching out to new partners, so is Moscow.

It is too early to pass judgement on these evolving partnerships. They are often driven by near term interests and global political uncertainty. It is very unlikely, however, that Russia will upset India over a highly sensitive issue like Kashmir.

India will not politically prefer Russia to the US — rather it must learn to work with both. In the Indo-Pacific, India’s equities lie with Washington, who’s economic and security presence can balance China’s rise. In Eurasia, Moscow will be its most important partner.

Meanwhile, the arch-enemy of India, Pakistan, is separating itself from the USA and is cooperating ever more closely with China, a close partner of Russia in turn. How does growing Russian cooperation with these two states affect the regional dynamics and decision-makings in India?

SS: In the face of American sanctions, Russia’s only real choice is dependence on and partnership with China. While the close partnership between Moscow and Beijing certainly poses a problem for India, Moscow must also introspect on the sustainability of its arrangement.

Russia should be anxious about being economically and militarily displaced by China in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The fact is that if Moscow seeks a multipolar Eurasia, it will have to bring India into the arrangement or risk acquiescing to China’s design.

India is cooperating closely with the US in Afghanistan to keep the Afghan government alive against the Taliban. What role does India’s position in Afghanistan play in the talks between Putin and Modi?

SS: While both countries agree that peace in Afghanistan is a priority, they differ over political arrangements that need to be made. Further, with the US, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan all in the mix, the situation in the region remains complex.

With Putin, India likely reiterated its long standing position that any initiative in Afghanistan must be led by the government. India might have also pushed forward the agenda agreed upon in Sochi — of pursing joint development projects in Afghanistan with Moscow.

Last year Russia called on India to join China’s Silk Road Project. India, however, seems to have reservations. This is mainly due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For what geopolitical reasons does India reject a mega-infrastructure with China because of its cooperation with Pakistan?

SS: CPEC is one amongst many objections that India has about the Belt and Road Initiative. The real issue, however, is that the BRI is a project designed, funded and executed only by China. As a key actor in the Asian century, India cannot allow China to dictate the terms of Asia’s governance.

China must adopt a more multilateral playbook if it wants Indian support for the BRI. India and other Asian powers must have a legitimate voice in creating the rules and institutions of the region and in benefitting from the commercial and trade opportunities.

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Samir Saran

Samir Saran

Samir Saran is the President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India’s premier think tank, headquartered in New Delhi with affiliates in North America and ...

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