Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

[op-ed snap] Delhi needs to engage with Moscow on the unfolding Sino-Russian naval partnership


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Russia in the Indian Ocean


Russia is rejoining the major power scrum in the Indian Ocean littoral. 

Russia – Indian Ocean

    • Three recent events highlight Russia’s growing strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.
    • Perekop, a training vessel of the Russian Navy, arrived at the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. 
    • Last month two Russian long-distance “Black Jack” nuclear bombers flew to South Africa. 
    • The Russian and the Chinese are conducting a trilateral naval exercise, Moris, with South Africa off the Cape of Good Hope. 

Significance of the events

    • This is the first time that the three of India’s partners in the BRICS forum along with Brazil, are doing such a joint exercise. 
    • The exercise reflects the growing weight of China and Russia in South Africa’s security.
    • Iran has said that it plans to hold joint naval drills with Russia and China in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

India – Indian Ocean

    • Until now, India’s discourse on the Indian Ocean has focused on the growing competition with China.
    • This led to the rapid expansion of India’s naval cooperation with the United States and Japan, regional partners like Indonesia, Singapore, and other ASEAN countries, nations in the Gulf as well as the east coast of Africa.
    • India has been developing a partnership with France, which is a resident power and a traditional security provider in the Western Indian Ocean and Africa.
    • India also wants to develop similar intensive engagement with Britain and the European Union.

Role of Russia

    • Russia’s return to the Indian Ocean is recent.
    • It must be seen as a part of its new strategic activism in the Middle East and Africa. 
    • Five decades ago, the US replaced Britain as the main security provider in the littoral. The Soviet Union expanded its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean during the 1970s and 1980s. 
    • The collapse of the Soviet Union disrupted Moscow’s Indian Ocean pursuit.

Limits to Russia’s role

    • Russia is a vast continental state. Its limited access to the sea remains vulnerable to exploitation by its adversaries. 
    • The unfreezing Arctic will present new opportunities for Russia, but most of them are for the long-term. 
    • Russia is also constrained by its limited economic resources. China, Japan, Europe, and the US bring far greater economic weight to bear upon the region. 

Opportunities to shape outcomes in the region

    • Arms – Moscow is one of the world’s major arms exporters and has turned that into effective leverage in the Indian Ocean region.
    • Military intervention – The success of Russia’s military intervention in Syria in saving the Bashar al Assad regime got the attention of many countries coping with civil wars. 
    • The recent reports on Russia’s growing security role — such as the use of hybrid forces — in the Central African Republic, Libya, and Mozambique are a testimony to this.
    • MIlitary access – Russia is using its new security role in the region to gain privileged military access. Russia has stepped up its naval diplomacy in the region.
    • UNSC – As a permanent member, Russia also offers diplomatic protection for many regimes in the UNSC on such issues as human rights. 
    • Moscow’s strong support to the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs is of great value to many African nations.
    • Resources – Russian energy and mineral companies offer important options for resource development in many parts of the littoral.

Opportunities & Challenges – India

    • Russian activism in the Indian Ocean should be welcomed to the emerging multipolarity in the region. 
    • However, its deepening tensions with the West and the growing strategic embrace of China pose problems for India’s strategy.
    • The impact of Russia’s conflict with the US has impacted India’s purchase of S-400 missiles.
    • China and Russia have conducted naval maneuvers in the Western Pacific, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. The joint exercise with South Africa brings the naval partnership closer to India.

Way ahead

India needs an early and intensive dialogue with Moscow on its Indian Ocean collaboration with China.

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