RIC: A Convoluted Triangle

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The world in the Covid-19 crisis has witnessed a sea change in the international diplomatic relations intertwining India, Russia, China, and the USA. Cordial relations between India and Russia have been in existence for decades now. Yet, India’s closeness to the USA has been hurting Russia but at the same time, Russia is racing towards China. Furthermore, while battling against Covid-19, China has been held liable for introducing/spreading the virus across the world. Most of the Western countries have admonished and restrained their trade relations with China. The USA even before the Covid-19 crisis began, had unleashed a trade war against China, the relations between the USA and China have worsened since the pandemic. Even, Chinese exports to India, according to recent statistics display a decline of 13%, and India’s exports to China have seen a surge of 16% in 2020. Even then, there is one country that has supported China comprehensively during the Covid-19 crisis and intensified its ties- Russia

. The burgeoning Russian and Chinese ties have discomforted India specifically and the USA to a certain extent. This interesting take on events has changed the dynamics of international diplomacy, economics, and strategic relations. To unfold the possible outcomes, their roots need to be made familiar with.

  • Indo-Soviet relations:

A healthy relationship between Russia and India dates back to the era of India’s independence. The world was divided into two blocs- USA and USSR which strongly advocated their political influences, more specifically targeting the Asian and African countries under their sphere of influence. The Indo-Russian relations grew stronger during the cold war even though India had not sided with the USSR, it had established the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) based on Nehruvian thought of idealism. From Russia’s Point of view it meant that even though India was not on their side, but it was not even against them. In the 1962 and 1965 wars, where Russia had given India substantial economic and military assistance. Also, Russia agreed to transfer technology to co-produce the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 jet fighter in India which was earlier denied to China. This blossoming relationship and assistance hurt China and severed the Sino-Russia relations majorly.

During this time, both China and the USA were interested in sterilizing the spread of Soviet influence in Asia, where India was becoming one of Moscow’s few allies It was in 1954 that the USA’s administration provided arms and supply military assistance and economic aid to Pakistan which startled India. Russia grabbed the opportunity to sideline a country situated in the subcontinent of Asia and an emerging potential and thus led to the inception of a strong alliance between the two countries. Years later, under the reign of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a significant deviation from the idealist thoughts- India signed the ’20 year Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation’ with the USSR which reassured India that the USA would not intervene in the 1971 Indo-Pak war in the following years apart from being India’s largest arms trade partner, it has helped India a great deal in its venture of industrialization, aviation, and education. It came into existence for the reason that Pakistan had increased its ties with the USA and China. The treaty played an instrumental role in the Bangladesh Liberation War too. The ties between Russia and India became stronger than ever then which furthered the rift between China and Russia.

Thus, The de facto departure from Jawaharlal Nehru’s principled non-alignment marked a significant turning point in the history of independent India’s foreign policy, and the 1971 Treaty still forms the basic framework for the ‘special relationship’ that persists between India and the Soviet Union’s successor state, the Russian Republic, to this day.

Anvesh Jain, Interpreting the 1971 Indo-Soviet Cooperation Treaty as a Turning Point in South Asian Strategic History, Synergy, University of Toronto, May 27 2020

  • If Russia and China’s relations had derailed to such an extent in the past how did they improve?

During the cold war, Russia and China were staunch foes competing for ruling their communism in the world. The foeship continued till the death of the Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong in the 1970s, yet the relations were more or less poor until the fall of the USSR in 1991. In the 1990s, both countries made peace with each other after having realized the importance of uniting together to fight against the western world and its propaganda. Since then the Russia-China relations are blooming, the ‘Treaty of Good neighbourliness and friendship cooperation’ in 2001 was a benchmark set for their cordial relations concerning strategic, military, and economic relations.

  • Indo-Russian relations post covid:

Even though Russia and China are coming close together to build strong economic and political relations, Russia has always looked forward to building a stronger relationship with India. In September 2019 it was decided in the 20th Indian-Russian Annual Summit for fostering industrial cooperation, investment, and technology innovation for leveling up trade to $30 billion by 2025. Recently on 9th December 2020, a virtual conference on the ‘Economic Engagement and Business Opportunities in Russia post Covid-19’, the Indian Ambassador to Russia, D Bala Venkatesh Verma addressed and urged Indian businesses to form joint ventures and enhance trade ties in high tech sectors like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, cryptography and other fields such as oil, energy, textiles, timber, etc. with Russia. The trust and confidence have led to both the countries collaborating in projects held in third countries. For eg. Roopur Nuclear Power Project in Bangladesh and Gas exploration projects in Vietnam.

It is crystal clear that India and Russia would not go against each other even though their political ideologies and background stand on different tangents altogether. Yet India’s blossoming political and economic ties with the USA calls for Russia’s attention towards China. With the strengthening of Russia and Chinese ties would it be a setback for Indo-Russian relations?

  • Russia’s rising relations with China- bad for India?

The China-Russia relation in the 21st century has witnessed a surge in its economic, strategic relations. Both have advanced cooperation at all three levels of international relations- national, regional, and global. The most important assemble of the relation is trade. China has already initiated a “silk road” way back in 2013 for strengthening economic ties and mitigating geographical barriers. During one of his visits to Russia in 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Russian President Vladimir Putin his best friend. The well-known axiom “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is a perfect example of the relations between Russia and China.

  • The relations of the USA with Russia as well as China has had soured due to various reasons:
Trade WarSanctions imposed by USA and Europe for seizing Crimea from Ukraine
Control of the South China seaGrowing relationship between USA and India
Western democratic policiesWestern democratic policies
Piracy of American technology 

Russia and China do not support each other’s grievances against the USA. China never supported Russia for annexing Crimea, likewise, Russia does not agree with the claim on the South China Sea. Yet they are keen on supporting each other against the bigger enemy ie the USA. More so, Russia and China have similar political ideologies- Socialism, communism and both are emerging as a few of the leading and influential countries in Asia. Amidst the Covid crisis, the world has politically and economically turned turtle thereby witnessing an unhindered change in political relations between countries. In the first quarter of 2020, Russia and China’s relation had struck with complications- China had alleged that Chinese citizens coming from Russia had been carrying the virus with them; instigating the second wave in China, questioning the reliability of Russian testing standards. To mend ways, Russia came to China’s support vocally when China was being accused of the origin and spread of Covid-19, it also praised China for handling the crisis effectively. Thus, China-Russia relations have once again sweetened.

Speaking of strengthening their ties, Russia and China are set to build the Gas Power Plant for polymers at Amur, a region in the far east of Russia, and have already started its construction in August 2020. This is one of the largest investment projects sought to boost their trade ties even further. The highlight of the covid crisis is the geopolitical dynamics that can lead to an imbalance to the equilibrium in the international arena.

Amur Gas Power Plant, Russia.

But is this a favourable change for India? Certainly not. China has already disrupted its relation with India with the recent border dispute and privacy infringements. The intensifying relationship between Russia and China hurts India. Russia and India have been close allies for decades to count even on bare fingers. Yet there have been restrictions on these ties due to the geographical barrier between both countries. But that is not an issue with Russia and China, both the countries lie in the neighbourhood of each other and thus can establish trade, political and economic cooperation with ease. These considerations are alarming and worrisome for India as well as the USA. Recently in the Covid-19 crisis, China has already undertaken its initiative to dominate Central Asia and has established its military and political influence.

  • Balance of power?

If the balance of power is not maintained by India or Russia, the situation will staunchly give rise to India & USA v. Russia & China. The two Asian major economies if come together staunchly against the western world it totally changes the geopolitical dynamics of the world. When India strides forward towards the USA, Russia is bound to move closer towards China. Even though there have been ups and downs in their relations i.e Russia and China, both the countries have severed their relationships with the USA. Thus, if India makes one step towards the USA, Russia and China would consciously move closer.

A mere possibility or reality: Russia & China v. India & USA?

Instead, if the situation arises- India & Russia v. USA & China: If India and Russia strike as a closer ally than what today they are,  it is nigh impossible that the USA and China would ever stand up for each other. Even though this situation would hold good for India, it is just a semblance that would hardly be a reality to look forward to. China would never act against its own interest and would not let Russia slip into the hands of India.

Thus, it is quite a requisite for India to strike a balance while keeping close relations with both the USA as well as Russia. With the newly elected President of the USA, who is in favour of stepping up a more cordial relationship with India, chances are that it would cause a setback to Indo-Russian ties.

– Manasi Joglekar,

Writer, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata

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