Sunday, October 23, 2011
Shifting sands and a powered Putin
23 October 2011,
Both Russia and China were cautious in their reaction to Muammar Gaddafi’s humiliating end, yet sounded critical of the US action. Earlier Prime Minister Putin had strongly opposed the UN resolution authorising action in Libya as "flawed", saying it resembles medieval calls for a Crusade. Now, while China showed concern on the growing western interventions in the Arab world, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Muammar Gaddafi should have been treated as a prisoner of war according to the Geneva Conventions and his life saved.
This was the second instance of near unanimity in their worldview after Russia joined China on October 4 to veto a US-backed United Nations resolution targeted at the crackdown on protests in Syria.
Post Saddam and Osama, what impact Gaddafi’s ‘rat like end’ will have in the Islamic world is yet to be seen but the growing convergence of worldview between Moscow and Beijing is a significant phenomenon India can ill afford to ignore.
Russian Prime Minister Putin’s recent disclosure of his intention to become President next March, having chalked out the longest period in office, created turbulence in the west with media terming it a new beginning of the Stalin era. Interestingly having announced his presidential dreams Prime Minister Putin almost immediately followed it with a China visit, where he was accorded a welcome befitting a head of state. It signified a new global power play disturbing the western perceptions and initiating a fresh review of ties in Indian security echelons.
Putin’s three day China visit, fetched twelve agreements worth $3.5bn icing them with a coveted pact to notify each other of ballistic missile launch plans. "It shows the special relationship with the two countries, as the launches of ballistic missiles are core State secrets rarely disclosed to other countries," Li Daguang, a military expert at China's National Defense University, was quoted as saying by the Global Times' English edition. Putin described the ‘friendship’, as having reached “unprecedented levels of cooperation” in the political sphere and came down heavily on the west, once describing America as ‘parasite’ ( which he later tried to play down with an explanation) and blaming the U.S. and European Union for “political” delays to Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Russian gas export monopoly OAO Gazprom plans to ship Siberian gas from as early as 2015, with total annual deliveries to reach 68 billion cubic meters, more than 60% of China’s 2010 consumption. China surpassed Germany as Russia’s biggest trade partner last year and annual turnover may exceed $70bn in 2011 and reach $200bn in 2020, from $59bn in 2010, Putin declared in Beijing.
The other significant agreement was to establish a commission for their upcoming joint border inspection in a bid to avoid friction on a tricky issue and ordering high-speed Chinese technology that enables a train to run 350 km per hour for Russia's Far East, a line from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk.
Once sworn enemies and almost on the brink of a war, Russia and China began a new chapter in friendship with the signing of ‘good neighbour’ treaty in 2001 heralding unprecedented cooperation in military hardware and trade.
Now Russia is showing keen interest in investing in Pakistan and even supplying some light military equipment. Pakistan President Zardari received a formal invitation to visit Moscow, this May, the first after 1974 to any Pakistani head of state. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had already told his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe that Russia was willing to help fund and build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, to which Moscow was earlier opposed. During Zardari's visit Russia offered technical help and funds for the modernisation and expansion of the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi, which the Soviet Union built in the 1970s, as well as five other MoUs for the supply of Russian rail tracks, cooperation in the oil and gas sector, power generation, coal mining and agriculture.
It is noteworthy that the Pakistani president had arrived in Russia 10 days after US commandoes killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan where he had enjoyed a safe haven for years. However, Moscow made it clear this fact will not affect relations with Islamabad. “Russia fully recognises and appreciates the substantial contribution made by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the efforts of world community” in countering international terrorism, Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Andrey Budnik said in an article he penned several days after the operation in Abbottabad. “Russia attaches great importance to cooperation with Pakistan in the sphere of Afghan settlement,” Mr. Budnik wrote. He explained that this cooperation was based on a shared understanding that the quest for peace in Afghanistan “must not become the prerogative of solely external players”, an obvious reference to the U.S.
Though India’s official position remains neutral, the spirit of 1971 India Soviet Union Friendship Treaty is fast vapouring off necessitating a new look at it. Many other glitches like inordinate delay in delivering aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, strategically too important for us, hiccups in getting spare parts and over dependence on Russian military supplies for all the three wings of our forces have already made South Block to diversify defence purchases prudently. Russians have noted it and their diplomats in Delhi don’t hide their uncomfortable feelings through murmurings like-India is fast falling into the US camp.
We must continue to have faith in Russian friendship and welcome Putin’s return as President of the Russian Federation. An old and time tested friendship should not be allowed to wither away under new power equations. Still it will be in our long-term interest not to depend on one country beyond a certain point. Manmohan Singh is serving India’s strategic interests on this front in his own inimitable placid way by encouraging strategic alliances like IBSA, BRICS and focusing more on East Asia.The guiding diplomatic sutra for India-Russian relations should be-respect but diversify.