Emerging Strength in India-Russia Relationships- Some Thoughts

Emerging Strength in India-Russia Relationships- Some Thoughts
December 2002

Zbigniew Brzezinsky in his book, Game Plan, in the late 1980s talked of the world-view from Washington and Moscow respectively to make his point about how the two superpowers looked at strategic issues and each other. Although much has changed since then, geography has not. Implicit in the world-view from Moscow, and unstated by Brzezinsky, was the intrinsic commonality of the world-view from Moscow and New Delhi. It is this convergence that the Delhi Declaration in 1988 and the one in December last sought to capture in the shape of guiding principles.[1]

The year 2002 will stand out as a year packed with major steps in the decades-old Russo-Indian strategic relationship. It has withstood the test of time and global geo-political turbulence of the Cold War years, the break-up of the USSR with its related problems, the subsequent global readjustments and the last few years in which the scourge of terrorism assumed global proportions.[2]

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visits to China and India in the 1st half of December 2002, was significant in the context of the possibility of building up an axis of cooperation between 3 of the world’s largest nations. As Professor Ma Jiali from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a major think-tank for the Chinese Government set the context, “Putin’s visit is a major event in the Sino-Russian and the Indo-Russian bilateral ties since both China and India have established strategic relationships with Russia,” and would provide the much-required impetus for enhancing the scope and range of trilateral cooperation between China, India and Russia which already exists at the level of scholars. Putin’s visit to Beijing and New Delhi comes after the foreign ministers of the three countries met for the first time in New York in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session and exchanged views on the questions being examined by the United Nations which was considered conducive to better mutual understanding and confidence. [3]

The emerging context of the strategic relationship was made out by Putin himself in an interview to the Hindu and the NDTV. Acknowledging that the two-polar world has ceased to exist and confrontation ended between two opposing systems, Putin emphasized on the need to create a new architecture for international security for building a safer world. The world is not totally at a stage of harmonic development, with new threats and challenges that are no less dangerous than the threats that it faced before. Although the world has changed, the tools, the international instruments – the United Nations – that were being used before to improve relations, can continue to be used and adapted to the present-day situation. This is a point of view, that India shares with Russia. Any other arrangement would tantamount to an unforgivable and gross mistake. As the world’s concern remained about Iraq possibly in possession of weapons of mass destruction, there are other hotbeds existing in the world that could pose a certain threat- the weapons of mass destruction in Pakistan being the case in point. The world has to have a clear picture of where those weapons are — in what status (state), in what condition they are and what will happen to them in the future. There are other regions of the world that no less worrisome than Iraq. There are concerns about weapons of mass destruction in Pakistan, falling into hands of militants in Pakistan-Afghanistan? There is also this matter about the missiles for weapons deal between North Korea and Pakistan…Russia as an important guarantor of the nuclear non-proliferation regime will insist on fulfilling the obligations that exist under the NPT. “The negative influence that Pakistan used to exercise in neighbouring Afghanistan in previous years, including support to the Taliban, are well-known facts. It is quite obvious .. that Osama bin Laden not just cooperated with the Taliban, but he was part of the whole system. In recent times, President Musharraf has taken a number of resolute steps to combat terrorism. My position is that we should not put all the burden, all the blame on him for negative developments, but we should, rather, try to stimulate him to continue this policy. We have the right to hope that his actions will be sincere….and effective. Otherwise, all talk on this matter would make no sense.”

The need for positive development of relations between Russia and India, Russia and China and China and India need not be over-emphasized. “I think that all the parties within this triangle are interested in this development. At the same time, I think we shouldn’t get ahead of time or move ahead without proper preparation. .. Russia is not delivering weapons to conflict areas. This is our rule and we try to abide by these rules. There is no conflict now between China and India now and I hope there will be no conflict in the future. The more we keep developing relations within the triangle, to which you have referred, the more successful we will be in achieving that positive result.”

There is also the need to pay more attention to joint investments and the establishment of joint ventures, and, in the area of military-technical cooperation, Both are already engaged in joint development and production of high-tech, very complex and very promising weapons’ systems and the focus need to be on improving settlement procedures and conditions for the development of business cooperation. There is the joint production of an anti-ship missile (Brahmos)….and substantial cooperation in the nuclear sphere. But there are certain limitations having to do with international obligations within the framework of the nuclear club…and various non-proliferation mechanisms and instruments.

India’s participation in joint work within Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would help to enhance (its) role. The SCO is growing in terms of its significance and the role it plays….and (in) the fight against international terrorism.[4]

Russia has taken a hard-line stand in its war against Islamic separatists in Chechnya, and has repeatedly expressed support for India’s battle against Pakistan-backed terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. The Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov took a jibe at countries trying “to capitalize on the anti-terror slogans for achieving their foreign policy and domestic goals”, in an apparent reference to Pakistan and the United States. Russia has kept up efforts to engage Pakistan on the issue of international terrorism by establishing a Russian-Pakistani Joint Working Group on terrorism which held its first meeting co-chaired by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Anatoly Safonov, and the Additional Foreign Secretary, Aneesuddin Ahmed.[5]

Coming from China, where the Russian and Chinese leaders signed a declaration calling for a “multi-polar world”– a phrase that expresses discontent with US global dominance — Putin was expected to sign a similar declaration with India. Russia and India have said that Washington uses a double standard with Pakistan in cracking down on terrorism. There is a belief that since Pakistan is a key supporter of the Washington-led war against suspected terrorists in neighboring Afghanistan, the United States turns a blind eye to Islamabad’s failure to rein in Islamic terrorists who cross into Jammu and Kashmir.[6] The itinerary also has overtones of a future triangular relationship that has the potential of a new security system for Asia. After the growing hype in India-US relations, including in defence cooperation, the strategic partnership between India and Russia is turning out to be a model of sustained engagement in an evolving geo-strategic environment.[7]

The Indian Prime Minister said India, Russia and China would explore “new avenues” for trilateral cooperation. Analysts attached significance to the fact that Mr. Putin’s current tour of Asia has taken him to China and India. The Russian President’s talks in Beijing and Delhi could speed up India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), to promote trilateral cooperation against terrorism. Putin may help “launch the process” by taking a “corresponding oral message from Beijing to Delhi.’[8]

The much expected Delhi Declaration, called for strengthening the international non-proliferation regime to prevent weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. India and Russia agreed to enhance strategic cooperation and set up a joint working group on combating terrorism, and issued a joint declaration on strengthening economic, scientific and cultural cooperation. Putin called for a resolution of disputes between India and Pakistan by “peaceful means” in his press interaction, a joint statement saw Moscow backing New Delhi’s position on cross-border terrorism to the hilt. “Both sides discussed in detail the current situation in South Asia. They stressed the importance of Islamabad implementing in full its obligations and promises to prevent the infiltration of terrorists across the Line of Control into the State of Jammu and Kashmir and at other points across the border, as well as to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled territory as a prerequisite for the renewal of peaceful dialogue between the two countries to resolve all outstanding issues in a bilateral framework as envisaged in the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1998.” The two sides stressed that the roots of terrorism lay in their common neighbourhood and posed a threat to their security interests. “Both sides would take preventive and deterrent measures to prevent and suppress terrorism. Both sides declared their determination to enhance collective and bilateral efforts to prevent and suppress terrorism.” [9]

India and Russia also signed an accord to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two military allies amid expectations to move it beyond a buyer seller relationship. The Russian President commented that “the military and technology cooperation between India and Russia is acquiring a new quality and it is not confined only to the supply of modern Russian equipment and has now expanded to joint research and development of (military) projects, and that the agreement on strategic partnership “is a political document which forms a solid basis for our international relationship.”[10]

The Indian Express in its editorial wrote: “Summit declarations normally spell out lofty principles and visionary goals. The Delhi Declaration between Russia and India is no exception. It emphasizes all the areas of importance to both countries and commits them to a wide-ranging agenda for the future, which would be expected to further consolidate their strategic partnership. Predictably, terrorism and steps to work together, occupies the greatest attention. The Declaration has done well to define terrorism as a crime against humanity. The problem has been the efforts, especially by the army leadership in Pakistan, to try and rationalize and legitimize terrorism in the name of religion since the days of General Zia ul-Haq. And it is good that the phenomenon of indiscriminate killing of innocents has been clearly identified as a major criminal activity and a gross violation of human rights. Both countries have committed themselves to the evolution of an equitable world order. The emphasis on the commitment to a new co-operative security order is also welcome, which would demand the strengthening of the UN. Equally important is the focus on global nuclear disarmament, and the support extended to plans for ‘systematic progressive’ nuclear arms reduction by Russia and the US, while calling for other nuclear weapon states to join this process. Unfortunately, proliferation after North Korea’s claim to have a weapons programme does not seem to have figured in any noticeable way. The most challenging aspect of the joint commitment, however, would be the up-gradation of the economic and trade relations between Russia and India to which both countries have promised to give special focus. Bilateral trade has been declining for a number of years now. Several measures have been identified for future action. Both countries had agreed during the Delhi summit in 1988 to double the trade in the following five years. In reality, trade dropped to negligible levels from which it has been struggling to emerge. There are objective reasons for this poor performance. But the success or otherwise of strategic partnership in future would be decided by the progress in trade and economic relations between the two countries. A lot of hard work would have to be done by both sides to provide life to this aspect of the relationship and add substance to an old partnership.[11]

The Pioneer wrote that “India has good reason to call the Indo-Russian strategic partnership a “model” for the rest of the world. The Delhi Declaration signed by the two countries represents an inspiring convergence of views on issues ranging from the war against terrorism to the dangers of uni- lateralism in what has significantly been described as a “multipolar” world. It is, in fact, nothing short of a classic, hard-nosed mutual security pact, even more sturdy and substantial for being shorn of the idealistic mumbo-jumbo of Cold War Indo-Soviet bonhomie. The joint statement reflects a clear-eyed assessment of mutual concerns, and the resolve to join hands against terrorism is solidly grounded in shared victimisation. If India has found sympathy in the tough-talking Russian President Vladimir Putin, this is not merely because terrorism is ideologically and morally repugnant, but because Russia has been equally scalded. Also, India has not woken alone to post-9/11 dejection on account of the West’s refusal to treat Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism with the seriousness it deserves. Russia too has faced Western lukewarm reactions vis-à-vis violent secessionism in Chechnya. This is why their “political” document has a message not only for Pakistan but also for the leaders of the global war on terror. The latter are reminded of two things. One, “double standards” on terrorism are unacceptable, since no nation can be said to have a higher pain threshold than others on account of it. Two, the internationally accepted definition of terrorism, contained in United Nations Resolution 1373, does not legitimise carnage as ‘self-determination’. Both standpoints have naturally led Mr Putin to endorsing India’s Pakistan policy of basing dialogue on the cessation of cross-border terrorism and dismantling of terrorist infrastructure.[12]

With both countries struggling to define their relations with other major players on the global stage — in a situation where the rules of international politics are in a state of flux and where the terms of the economic interaction between nations are being re-set — this specific encounter between the Indian and Russian leaderships was of significance for the affirmation of continuity and mutual reassurance that it symbolised. What has added substance is the reinforcement of the faith that there is a real convergence of perspectives on issues as wide-ranging as the phenomenon of terrorism, ensuring the security of nuclear weapon stockpiles in a world facing a new assortment of threats and challenges, the conservation and promotion of multipolarity in global politics, the need for country-specific adjustments in the course of globalization, and on issues specific to South, Central and West Asia. Russia’s belief that India can and should make a substantial contribution to the evolution of a strong global consensus on these issues was revealed in its open support of the Indian campaign for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. The two sides have also made an earnest effort to address the deficiency in bilateral trade which stands in such marked contrast to the very wholesome relationship they share in almost every other sphere. …While no country was specifically named in that part of the Declaration wherein reference was made to the concerns that terrorist groups might come into possession of weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Putin had left little room for ambiguity in the interview he had given to this newspaper on the eve of his visit. Although Islamabad has strenuously and repeatedly refuted Mr. Putin’s charge that Pakistan’s ability to ensure secure storage of its nuclear weapon material was suspect, the Russian leader has not backtracked. To interpret Mr. Putin’s comments on this matter as being intended to woo India at the outset of his visit would be to read it too narrowly as there is no real need for any Russian President to vindicate some of the extreme suspicions harboured by some elements on the Indian side. In that case those charges are either based on hard evidence or were intended to deflect attention from the suspicions that have been aired, from time to time, that control over Russia’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction is not all that secure. New Delhi would do better to take a close look into this matter rather than take pleasure in Pakistan’s discomfiture.[13]

Pakistan, predictably, expressed disappointment over the unwarranted and unbalanced reference to Pakistan in the Delhi’s Declaration and said that Islamabad was not involved in cross border infiltration and it was regrettable that legitimate, genuine and indigenous Kashmir freedom struggle had not been given due recognition. “The Government of Pakistan has noted with disappointment the unwarranted and unbalanced references to Pakistan contained in the so-called Delhi Declaration.”[14] It was the view in Pakistan that Putin have added to tensions between Pakistan and India, the joint statement was marked by one-sidedness and a blatant disregard for truth and objectivity, instead of casting a healthy and moderating influence on the situation in South Asia.[15]

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made progress in shaping a Moscow-Beijing-Delhi triangle during his visits to China and India as per the former Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov, however, warned against seeing the Moscow-Beijing-Delhi axis as a military or political bloc. “It is a geometric figure where ties between the poles should be strengthened.” The political declarations the Russian President signed in China and India reflected the close identity of views the three nations hold on a range of international issues including terrorism, Iraq, West Asia, the role of the United Nations, non-proliferation and regional security. It is, in particular, the shared interest in maintaining security and stability in Central Asia and Afghanistan that may give flesh and blood to the idea of the Moscow-Beijing-Delhi triangle. “When applied to the region, the triangle will no doubt work as a factor of stability.”[16]

However there is skepticism about the emerging axis. The strategic triangle comprising China, India and Russia, is being as some kind of a multi-polar balance against the uni-polarity of the United States. But any India-China-Russia strategic partnership can be a non-starter. “In any such partnership, each state has to strengthen the other in order to present some kind of a united front. Russia is no longer a superpower. It is economically weak and dependent on the US and the IMF for assistance. The only strength it has is in the production of state-of -the-art military equipment, which it is selling to both India and China. However, to have a weak India remains a primary Chinese objective. Whether this is done through Pakistan, in collaboration with North Korea, or by flooding the Indian market with cheap Chinese goods, the strategy is to keep India confined to the subcontinent and not allow it to become a global player. So there can be no strategic partnership between the three countries, with India as part of the triangle.”[17]

On its part, Beijing has been playing a quiet game on this issue, occasionally agreeing and then displaying second thoughts. Probably the most clinching factor for multipolarity will be its utility in curtailing terrorism. Terrorism on a world-wide scale has gained impetus due to irrational American foreign policy outputs. The non-availability of any worthwhile international opposition has encouraged the USA to literally freewheel its foreign policy all over, according to Washington’s moods. West Asia showcases this quite explicitly. A dynamic multipolar world as construed will go a long way in rationalising America’s external outlook. There is no gainsaying the attendant global benefits. [18]Making a statement in the Indian Parliament the Prime Minister said that no concrete steps have been taken to further trilateral cooperation among India, Russia and China.[19]

Given the more or less unchangeable supremacy of the US in world politics, structuring equations with other important powers to balance this uni-polar influence is logical. From the visit, clear convergence of views emerged on some significant political and security issues. But it would, nevertheless, be relevant to go beyond the factual aspects of this visit and understand the context in which it took place.[20]

For India, its relationship with Russia is a case of consolidation where as with the US it’s question of reversal of old, negative trends. The two are important for India both individually and collectively. The exclusive superpower status of the U.S. imparts a special quality to its ties with India. The smooth equation could pave the way for help and support in various areas, notably political and economic. Also, it sends positive signals, from New Delhi’s standpoint, to others especially the Western powers, influencing their approach to India. Russia is no longer a superpower and its relationship with India is devoid of the ideological content that characterised the Soviet Union’s dealings with India. Nonetheless, the relevance of mutual ties has been retained, even enhanced, in the present-day changed context. In the past, India’s special relationship with Moscow created suspicions in Washington while an occasional tilt towards the U.S. was misunderstood by the Soviet Union. That was the inescapable logic of the power bloc rivalries of the Cold War era. There are no such risks for New Delhi now because of the understanding and amity between the U.S. and Russia. To maintain the positive trends in the two cases — pronounced in the case of India-Russia ties, and promising in regard to the U.S. — is a challenging task, requiring skill and sustained effort. The immensity of the task is not to be underesimated.[21]

[1] Jasjit Singh, Putin the right perspective: Strategic partnership needs more coordination The Indian Express 4 December 2002

[2] Anil Bhat, Indo-Russian strategic partnership The Pioneer 5 December 2002

[3] The Pioneer 2 December 2002

[4] The Hindu 1 December 2002

[5] The Hindu 3 December 2002

[6] Hindustan Times 4 December 2002

[7]Ashok K Mehta , India-Russia: Life after defence The Pioneer 4 December 2002

[8] Vladimir Radyuhin, Avenues for trilateral cooperation will be explored, The Hindu 4 December 2002

[9] Amit Baruah, Delhi Declaration’ asks Pak. to end infiltration The Hindu 5 December 2002

[10] The Nation 5 December 2002

[11] Updating old ties: For this to happen, New Delhi and Moscow would need to do some more hard work Editorial, The Indian Express 6 December 2002

[12] Power pact The Pioneer 6 December 2002

[13]An enduring friendship The Hindu 6 December 2002

[14]Pakistan rejects Delhi declaration The Nation 6 December 2002

[15] Putin’s Pakistan-bashing Dawn 7 December 2002

[16] Vladimir Radyuhin, ‘Putin keen on triangle’ The Hindu 9 December 2002

[17] VK Grover Triangle’s not-so solid geometry The Pioneer 12 December 2002

[18] JK Dutt, A requisite alliance The Statesman 12 December 2002

[19] The Hindu 12 December 2002

[20] JN Dixit Moscow reaches out: Putin introduces multipolarity in Russia’s foreign policy The Hindu 12 December 2002

[21] K.K. Katyal, Dealing with Washington & Moscow The Hindu 16 December 2002
Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya