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The Importance Of Russia And US For India

July 08, 2024 09:25 IST
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New Delhi has reached out to Moscow while waiting for a new president in Washington.

New Delhi knows well that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent national interests, points out Rup Narayan Das.

IMAGE: Modi in a bilateral meeting with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in Samarkand, September 16, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Russia on July 8th and 9th to participate in the 22nd India-Russia summit in Moscow.

The summit has strategic significance on many counts.

Prime Minister Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting for the first time after their electoral victories and consolidation of power in their respective countries giving stability and continuity of bilateral relations.

This is Modi's first visit abroad after becoming prime minister of the country for the third time.

This is suggestive of the strategic importance that India attaches to Russia.

The meeting is taking place on the heels of the meeting between External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the margins of the SCO meeting in Astana last week, where they discussed a plethora of issues including the ensuing summit between Modi and Putin.

The visit is an occasion to ruminate India's triangular strategic engagement with both Russia and the USA and how they intercede with each other.

Although bilateral relationships like the India-US or India-Russia relations have their own dynamics and strategic imperatives, in the triangular relationship among and between the three, the law of inverse variation seems to surface at times, reflecting the dynamics of India's multi-alignment with Russia and the USA.

It is, of course, quite a challenge for India to strike a fine balance and maintain equi-proximity.

After the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, India has moved quite a distance in forging a 'strategic and global partnership' with the USA.

This has aroused some consternation in Moscow.

Ever since Independence, particularly after the Bangladesh War in 1971, India and Russia have enjoyed a robust relationship in spite of occasional hiccups.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi exchanges greetings with US President Joe Biden during the G20 Leaders' Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi, September 0, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

While the China factor has impelled greater India-US defence cooperation, the USA in the past had sided with India's adversaries China and Pakistan much to India's chagrin.

Although the rhetoric of 'shared values' is often alluded to in the narrative of the India-US tango, Washington is more guided by the dynamics of its 'military-industrial complex' invoking the China threat.

It is as truer about India as about Taiwan, Ukraine, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.

For India, the China threat is not only real, but also persistent.

The arms industry paradigm is equally true in case of Russia, but India has a different experience, nay rather an unhappy experience with the USA unlike Russia.

Shared values didn't prevent the USA from siding and arming Pakistan against India during the Cold War.

It abandoned Taiwan and reached out to China, it deployed the 7th Fleet to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 War.

It imposed sanctions on India after its nuclear explosions in 1974 and 1998.

There were no such aberrations in the tested and trusted relations between India and the Soviet Union/Russia, in spite of the two nations having divergent political systems.

Russia has understood and taken in its stride India's multi-alignment including its engagement with the USA and the Quad.

The Russian approach to Quad has been in sync with that of China which views Quad as an Asian NATO.

Unlike the USA which propels India against China, Russia nudges India and China to resolve contentious issues bilaterally offering its own facilitation like a catalyst.

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Astana, July 3, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Significantly, Prime Minister Modi's visit to Russia is taking place at a time when there is a perceptible discordant note in India-US relations.

The US stance on the alleged attempts to kill Khalistani terrorist Gurupatwant Singh Pannun on American soil has created a discordant note in Indian government and political circles.

Similarly, the Modi government has not taken kindly to the US state department's remarks on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's arrest.

In the latest irritant in the bilateral relations between India and the USA is the US state department's report on India relating to religious freedom in the country.

New Delhi has rejected the report dubbing it as 'vote bank considerations' in international relations.

It won't be an exaggeration to say these reports fall short of grey zone tactics.

True, in the complex and dynamic bilateral relations between the two countries such issues will die down sooner than later at a time when the USA is passing through a long drawn electoral process.

New Delhi has reached out to Moscow while waiting for a new president to be elected in Washington.

IMAGE: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Dr Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ahead of the 5th India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi, November 10, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

New Delhi knows well that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent national interests.

Fully understanding the imperative and wisdom of not putting all the eggs in one basket, India has diversified its arms imports while promoting indigenisation of arms production.

According to a recent report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has considerably reduced its purchases from its largest arms supplier Russia in the last 15 years.

Between 2009 and 2013 India imported 76% of its defence equipment from Russia, in the period 2019 and 2023, Russia's share of India's arms import was reduced to 36%.

That is why the two nations are putting more emphasis on increasing bilateral trade in other sectors of the economy including energy and connectivity.

India's oil imports from Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis in spite of sanctions by the US and the West has helped in the buoyancy of the Russian economy.

India's nuanced stance on the Ukraine issue both at the UN and at the G-20 summit in Delhi in September 2023 has also earned Moscow's goodwill.

A strong Russia is in India's interest and a stronger India is in the interest of regional and global peace.

Dr Rup Narayan Das is a former senior fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and also the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The views expressed are personal.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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