(This is a reprint from NewsBred)
It’s not as much a matter of choice for India as it is for Russia. India media might be scripting a Russia factor in fractured Indo-China relations but you ought to know better.
India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh is in Moscow. The foreign ministers of two nations joined their Chinese counterpart for a virtual dialogue on Tuesday. Both are pre-arranged engagements, not an offshoot of Galwan Valley. Yet hopes are injected that Russia would play a peacemaker. I suggest you examine the evidence than suffer a hangover which is a druggie’s profile the morning after.
Sure, Russia is India’s biggest defence exporter. The two leaders Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi share a rare warmth. They have reset economic ties to the extent that the target of $30 billion is revised to $50 billion by 2025. The two have a strategic partnership. Both need each other for trade corridors. Both have stood by each other on global forums. The two have not stopped liking each other in last seven decades.
But Russia is no big brother to India. India’s economy is more than twice the size of Russia. India’s arm buys are falling vis-à-vis Russia and leapfrogging with Israel, France, the United States etc. Tourism isn’t quite booming between the two nations.
On the contrary, Russia can’t do without China. Its’ trade with China is worth over a hundred billion dollars. It has a $400 billion energy deal with China. Both share a global vision in Indo-Pacific even though Russia, on its own, has little to lose on that sea expanse. Both see in the United States an implacable rival. Both are looking after each other’s backs. You help us mate if submarines snarl in South China Sea. We look after you if NATO rolls down tanks in Eastern Europe. No formal pact, just a wink in the eye is good enough.
So, Russia could use its good offices to bring the two Asian adversaries on the table. But it can’t prevent a martial discord turning into a divorce. It doesn’t have that bargaining chip. If it was valued this big by China, the latter would’ve taken Russians into confidence before the Galwan Valley misadventure. And if they did take Moscow into confidence, and still went ahead, it’s worse.
It’s for Russia to plot its future in the 21st century. Its present woes began when it took control of Crimea after a referendum in 2014. The US-led sanctions in its wake are crippling.
It could choose to remember that India defended the referendum in Crimea while China didn’t.
It could turn a blind eye, if it wants to, China going big in elbowing it out in Central Asia which is so, so vital to Moscow.
It could choose to be a junior partner to China or retain the instincts which are genetic in a superpower.
It could ignore–if it could afford –the role India could play in linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Asian mass through Chabahar Port in Iran, now in India’s control.
It could miss, if it wants to, the critical role of India in the International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km network of ship, rail and road which frees up Russian transportation across Europe, Central Asia, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan up to India.
Nations today are guided by their own interests. Two countries could converge on one issue and diverge significantly on the other. Russia discounts China’s role in the devastating Covid-19 spread on global forums but it has also shut its borders against China. Russia is indeed India’s friend for all seasons but it doesn’t stop them from selling arms to Pakistan and joining our arch rivals in military exercises since Afghanistan is vital. India too won’t let Russia come in the way of its growing convergence with the United States. But its adamant to buy S400 anti-missile system from Russia next year even though the United States is threatening crippling sanctions. There are camps, sure, but relationships are more fluid, unlike Cold War era. Look at Turkey, a member of NATO, but blackmailing Europe now and then on refugees.
So rejoice Russia is neutral but don’t expect them in your corner against China. Besides India itself is a power of considerable hulk. India’s issue with China won’t have a mediator. New Delhi would have to pack a punch of its own against China. Russia is no parent and India no child even though China decidedly is a bully. Call the bully out on your own. India could do it.
Indian media seeking Russia’s intervention is comical, if not tragic. On one hand you detest the United States offering mediation; on the other you seek one from Russia. It’s tragic for it betrays a sense of inferiority, a colonial hangover, which refuses to acknowledge India could hold its own. It distorts the immediacy India needs in its military preparedness. It injects a false sense of security. It lets India down in its own eyes.
(This has also been published in NewsBred).
India doesn’t intend to scuttle its plans to buy S-400 Triumf from Russia despite the spectre of US sanctions.
The visit of India’s defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Moscow last month was a firm indication of India’s resolve to ignore CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) which Donald Trump’s regime had invoked last year on Russia for its alleged interference in 2016 US elections.
India has always relied on Russia for its military hardware and technology which remains undiminished despite Modi government’s increased military reliance on United States. Presently, it imports 62 per cent of its military needs from Moscow.
US is adviced to go easy on India in case the deal materialized for one, it’s a bulwark against China in the Pacific Ocean; (2) It’s world’s largest arms importer benefiting US directly; (3) It could push India into the arms of China and Russia and thus completely neutralizing influence of US in Asia.
New Delhi had expressed its caginess against US sanctions during a visit of foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale to US recently.
The S-400 anti-air missiles have been billed as US F-35 killers by Moscow. During the cruise missile strikes by US, French and British army on suspected Syrian chemical weapon sites recently, it was noticeable they avoided areas protected by S-400 systems.
Russia has already begun delivering S-400 missiles to China; Turkey has a $2.5 billion deal to purchase S-400s from Russia. Iraq has expressed its interest too rather than US Patriot surface-to-air missile defence system which was dubbed a failure to protect Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh against the missiles launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
S-400 is one of world’s best interceptor-based missile defense system. It has an estimated operational range of 400 kilometres and an altitude of up to 185 kilometres. It could intercept missile warheads in their terminal stage.
India is expected to announce the purchasing of S-400 missiles from Russia when the leaders of the two country, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin, hold a bilateral summit in October this year.
Sberbank, Russia’s largest state-owned bank, is looking to finance the direct import of gold to India.
Aleksei Kechko, managing director of the bank’s Indian subsidiary, has made an announcement to this effect which is no surprise to those who have followed the gold-buying spree of BRICS nations, especially China and Russia.
India imports a lot of gold. Indeed, it’s the second largest importer of gold in the world. India imported $35 billion worth of gold in 2015. The direct gold trade between India and Russia would help both nations.
“We hope to sign the transaction by September or October this year,” said Kechko “We are also exploring the possibility of entering the gold loans sector as well.”
Russia has been keen of late to conduct business with BRICS nations in gold. Russia now has a yuan-clearing bank in Moscow and it’s Central Bank has opened a branch in Beijing to make for better communication between the financial authorities of the two countries.
The effort by BRICS nations is to work towards bypassing the dollar while also using gold for transaction commodity between member nations.
BRICS nations actively are moving towards creating a new financial architecture to tackle the dominance of the US dollar in global finance.
The initiative was taken in the eighth summit of BRICS in India last year. The new institutions set up by the BRICS include the New Development Bank (NDB), the BRICS-led Contingency Reserve Fund (CBF) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Russia is world’s third largest gold producer behind China and Australia, as per the 2016 data. Still, it has been on a massive gold-buying spree in recent years. Hit by economic sanctions by West, Russia’s ruble is the most gold-backed currency in the world. Moscow sees it as a safeguard against western attempts to destabilize Russia’s economy.
The same is the case with China who wants to be ready for economic warfare by the West. Both China and Russia have added almost 50 million ounces of gold to their central banks while selling off more than $267 billion of treasuries.
As for India, it simply loves gold leading to its constant demand. Be it newly-wed brides or trinklets with peasants in countryside, Indians simply love gold.
However, importing gold is relatively a new phenomenon. Until 1990, gold imports were virtually banned. Bullion was smuggled and cost 50 per cent more at home than abroad. However, deregulation set off an explosion. Now most gold legally comes to India through banks.
The Russia-India-China (RIC) meet of its foreign ministers in Moscow is unlikely to have thawed the freezing relations between two Asian giants, China and India.
The same is true of the simultaneous visit of India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar to China where he met his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chang Wanguan and stated India attaches highest priority to its relationship with China.
Both China and India suffer from a trust deficit though the niggling issue is simple enough: Both China and India need to look at each other’s territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin plateau in a spirit of cooperation and resolve the long-standing dispute.
As a nation which stands to gain the most through India-China alliance, Russia could offer its own example: the Russian-Chinese borders were formalized in 2004 after 40 years of bad blood between the two nations.
The last fortnight has been particularly frosty: China blocked India’s move in United Nations to have Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief and allegedly Pathankot terror attack mastermind, Masood Azhar be designated as terrorist,
India, on their part, went ahead a signed an agreement with the United States on sharing military logistics in Indian Ocean, the area which is strategically and economically lifeline to Beijing.
But the RIC meet is unlikely to have much influence. Despite it being a foreign ministers’ conclave, it largely deals with the economic, and not security, issues.
The economic prospects of trade between India and China are mammoth. It’s already worth $100 billion and given their market and areas of strength, it holds immense possibility.
India could offer its Information Services strength and avail China’s expertise to build high-speed rail network in India. China’s excess production could also be easily absorbed within India.
India is extremely touch on matters of terrorism and finds itself regularly frustrated by China on international forums. Last year, China had blocked India’s bid to question Pakistan over the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a commander in Lashkar-e-Taiba, which had carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed 160 lives.
A leaked cable of US State Department in 2010 had revealed that China had in the past blocked UN sanctions against Lashkar-e-Taiba and the al-Akhtar Trust (a charity front for Jaish-e-Mohammad). It had also blocked India’s request to list Syed Salahuddin, a terrorist wanted in relation to numerous Hizbul Mujahideen attacks.
Though China’s moves were procedural within the UN sanctions committee, it was in opposition to the stands of US, UK, France and Russia all of whom were willing to back India on the issue.
China has a history of shielding Pakistan-based terror groups from sanctions under resolution 1267 even though it hardly ever uses a veto—exercising it only 10 times in its 70-year history of UNSC. It parrots the same line in defence that Pakistan does: “Pakistan is a terrible victim of terrorism itself.”
Such acts hardly endear China to India. It also reveals the closeness between Pakistan and China in modern context. India feels hemmed in between its two nuclear-armed northern neighbours. All it is doing is to drive India into US’ arms which dread the prospects of close India-China relations.
It still is encouraging that RIC has shown its concern on terrorism and a willingness to use international forums, such as BRICS, SCO, East Asian summits and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) to get the three nations closer.
Russia is keen to play a mediator’s role between China and India. It won’t be Asia’s century unless India and China draw closer to each other. Joint enterprises, preferential trade system and a common trade currency offer a huge opportunity.
China’s Great Silk Road project involves a huge territory—from Southeast Asia to the Caucasus. Russia, like India, isn’t yet a part of it even though a cooperation between the Silk Road and Russia-inspired Eurasian Eonomic Union exists.
There is a need to cool down the tempers from both sides. Says NewsBred columnist Shen Dingli: “China actually has many ways to hurt India. China could send an aircraft carrier to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. China had turned down the Pakistan offer to have military stationed in the country. If India forces China to do that,” there could be a threatening navy at India’s doorstep.