Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2019-09-17 13:09:26 Published on Sep 17, 2019
The shift began with the election of Trump who refused to go by conventional thinking on Russia.
Europe’s geopolitical shift: Its thaw with Russia holds out hope for a world not dominated by US and China

The exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine earlier this week is a signal, albeit faint, that the European geopolitical tectonic plates are also shifting, along with those in Asia. This has consequences for India. Bitterness between the West and Russia over the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 seems to be abating. The shift began with the election of Trump who refused to go by conventional thinking on Russia. His persistence in rebuilding ties with Moscow is apparent from his recent invitation to Moscow to attend the next G7 summit to be held at Miami next year. European Union (EU) and American pressure pushed Moscow to overcome its geopolitical wariness and embrace Beijing. The two built up a trading relationship based on growing energy exports to China, while Russia perforce has begun to rely on Chinese finance and manufactured goods. At the heart of this partnership is the need to deal with their primary adversary — the US — and not worry about their backyards. But Russian weakness brought on, in part, by its EU quarrel, has pushed Russia to a junior status in its relationship with China, and Moscow knows it.

India has had to face a double whammy here. First, China has displaced India as Russia’s “go to” defence partner. There was a time in the 1990s when Russia ensured that India got the highest level of weapons systems that it exported — the Sukhoi 30 MKI, the Brahmos missile, technology for a nuclear propelled submarine and so on. Now China has that privilege, having been the first to receive the Su-35 and S-400 missiles last year. Second, India has to contend with the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions (CAATSA). The US is unlikely to ever supply India with a class of weapons like nuclear submarines or hypersonic missiles to counter China. The only country that would is Russia, and arguably France. Whether it is Russia or Iran, the US also wants India to subordinate its regional policies to align with those of the US.

It is not entirely a coincidence that all this is happening as the most hawkish anti-Russian country — UK — is leaving the EU.

Now there are signs of a thaw in American and EU ties with Russia. On 9 September, France held 2+2 talks with Russia in Moscow. It is not entirely a coincidence that all this is happening as the most hawkish anti-Russian country — UK — is leaving the EU. Germany-Russia relations, too, are much improved, witness the numerous high-level visits of German leaders, including Chancellor Merkel to Russia in the past year. The thaw has boosted the Normandy format meetings between Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine to resolve the crisis. On Monday, President Trump said he was not averse to joining the talks whose next round could take place at the end of the month. The stage is set for a possible compromise on Crimea. Other things could then follow.

In all fairness, both sides need to take a step back and look at their own conduct. NATO’s eastward expansion could not but have rattled Russia. In turn the latter built up a web of links with right wing and radical forces across EU. Paris was not amused when Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally, confirmed that her party had received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank some years back, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Europe and Russia understand the value of their relationship very well. Part of it is shared history, part is the present where Russia is the largest oil and natural gas exporter to EU and the latter is its largest trading partner and source of FDI.

Given its location, India has both continental and oceanic interests. European shifts in conjunction with a possible thaw in Iran-US ties will be a boost for India’s Eurasian interests. After taking Indian policy unconscionably close to the US, Modi is discovering the virtues of multi-polarity. A strong and stable Russia and EU would certainly be a better option than a world dominated by the US and China.

This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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