Author : Harsh V. Pant

Originally Published 2018-10-04 06:05:42 Published on Oct 04, 2018
Russia and India have to ride out some choppy waters
Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in New Delhi this week for the 19th India-Russia annual bilateral summit. This annual summitry is unique as Russia is one of only two countries, the other one being Japan, with which India holds this summit. Though the two nations have had a longstanding partnership, it has been passing through a turbulent phase even as this relationship was elevated to Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in 2010. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Sochi for an informal summit with the Russian President earlier this year where he tried to reaffirm New Delhi’s commitment to galvanise one of India’s oldest strategic partnerships. Underlining that friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time, and that the ties would continue to scale new heights, Modi suggested that the seeds of the “strategic partnership” sown by former prime minister AB Vajpayee and President Putin have now grown into a “special privileged strategic partnership”. Welcoming Modi to Sochi “personally as a big friend” of Russia, Putin said his visit would give a fresh impetus to bilateral ties. The highlight of Putin’s visit is likely to be the signing of the deal for the purchase of the S-400 Triumf — a mobile, surface-to-air missile system —  which has been under discussion since 2015. The Russian-built S-400 Triumf is widely considered as the most effective operationally deployed modern long-range surface-to-air missile (MLR SAM) system in and, therefore, much in demand. China signed a deal for six battalions of the S-400 in 2015 and countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are in line. The S-400 deal has been one of the major issues challenging India-US relations. Under the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which was passed unanimously by the US Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, countries doing business with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence companies will face sanctions. There is a provision for granting of waivers to select countries and India is hoping to avail of that. With a multi-billion dollar deal for five S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems in the offing, India cannot really afford to sideline Russia in its defence calculus. Moreover, a militarily potent India is central to the US strategy in the wider Indo-Pacific. So, the Trump Administration’s reaction to the S-400 deal will be closely watched. Even as India is trying to stabilise its defence ties with Russia, there are growing concerns in New Delhi about Russia’s increasing tilt towards Pakistan as it seeks to curry favour with China. Moscow had historically supported New Delhi at the UNSC by repeatedly vetoing resolutions on the Kashmir issue. Today, however, there is a change in how Moscow views its regional priorities in South Asia. In a significant development, the joint declaration issued at the end of the first-ever six-nation Speaker’s Conference in Islamabad held in December 2017 supported Pakistani line on Kashmir. This declaration signed by Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey underscored that “for ensuring global and regional peace and stability, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir needs peaceful resolution by Pakistan and India in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.” During his visit to New Delhi last year, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had publicly called on India to join China’s Belt and Road initiative and hoped that New Delhi will find a way out to benefit from the mega connectivity project without sacrificing its position on the issues flagged by it. Sino-Russian relationship has grown to an extent where the two are now participating in joint military exercises such as the recently concluded, Vostok-2018, underscoring the rapidly evolving nature of this relationship and a fluid global strategic environment. Both are now more unified than ever in posing a challenge to the US-led global order. New Delhi has long maintained that it needs a close relationship with Moscow so that the Beijing-Moscow relationship could be dented. But India’s Russia outreach seems to have had a rather insignificant impact so far on the Russia-China dynamic. Russia is also reaching out to Pakistan despite Indian reservations and is changing its tune on the Afghanistan issue. It is now a strong votary of negotiating with the Taliban and has given short shrift to Indian reservations in this regard. Given the challenge China poses to India on multiple fronts, this growing Sino-Russian collusion should ideally be at the top of the agenda during this week’s summit. India-Russian relationship is passing through an interesting phase. There are bilateral challenges that need to be overcome, but the global environment has provided opportunities to New Delhi and Moscow to re-calibrate their ties. It is up to the political leadership of the two nations to rise to the occasion.
This commentary originally appeared in DNA.
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Harsh V. Pant

Harsh V. Pant

Professor Harsh V. Pant is Vice President – Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is a Professor of International Relations ...

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