October 12, 2011
How can Putin’s return to presidency affect Russian-Indian relationship? In anticipation of the results of Russian election Indian analysts debate on the Indian take on a possible political “wind of change” in Russia.
A recent visit of the Indian Defence Minister A.K.Antony to Russia served as a platform for a number of important steps such as the confirmation of the delivery schedule for aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and the lease of the K-152 Nerpa nuclear submarine. These are some of the areas of the long-term plan that envisages military cooperation between Russia and India up to 2020, which is the longest cooperation agreement that India has in this sphere. However, one should see a bigger picture behind the armaments deals. The impending election in Russia and much speculated on Russian current PM Vladimir Putin’s running for President could mean changing the tone of the relationship between the two countries.
Indian journalist and parliamentarian Tarun Vijay suggests that while welcoming the possibility of Putin’s taking the wheel, “building up its independent capabilities” may be beneficial for India. Although there are no grounds to expect the drastic changes in the Russian foreign policy as far as India is concerned still the power balance in the Russia-India-China equation may shift, especially in light of the recent Vladimir Putin’s visit to China and resulting agreements on broadening of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation from traditional industries to high technology industries and signing $7 billion deals.
There have already been changes in Soviet-Indian relationship scenario under Gorbachev when despite remaining committed to friendship the USSR drifted a bit towards China in its foreign policy, and therefore Vijay doesn’t rule out a probability of India’s reconsidering its relationship with Russia and transforming Indian “complete dependence on Moscow” situation into a “healthy strategic partnership”. While there are a sufficient number of factors that bring BRICS countries, and particularly India and Russia, together, for instance Islamist threat or US politics of dominance, still there is motivation to proceed cautiously in this cooperation. The situations such as the Vikramaditya (former Admiral Gorshkov) modernization delay and a resulting increase in costs as well as other situation with spare parts delays from the Russian side may induce the Indians to boost domestic spare parts production for the hardware supplied by the Russians.
But the medal has two sides and despite differences and disagreements, Russia and India still remain all-weather friends especially in view of Russian steady support of India in its conflict with Pakistan and India’s standing by the former USSR and present day Russia in its rivalry with the USA in the space and military industries. But as a popular saying goes, a hedge between keeps friendship green. So may be as it often happens even in the closest relationships there is a need for space and room for development for each of the parties, and it can happily coexist with long-term strategic partnership.
What Putin's return means for India
October 12, 2011
In diplomacy, like in politics, there are no permanent friends or foes. The same principle must be true for India-Russia relations in the coming Putin era, says Tarun Vijay.
Defence Minister A K Antony's significant Russia visit was lost in the domestic political din, yet the message he brought must cheer up India.
It is not just the confirmation of the delivery schedule for the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly, the Admiral Gorshkov). Delhi had been concerned at the delay in its delivery, resulting in the escalation of the cost from $1.5 billion to $2.33 billion.
Antony also discussed the pending lease of the K-152 Nerpa nuclear multi-purpose attack submarine and licensed production and overseas maintenance of Su-30MKI aircraft and T-90S tanks.
India remains the largest buyer of military hardware from Russia.
According to Jyotsna Bakshi at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 'the major weapon systems acquired or contracted from Russia in the last five years include Su-30MKI multi-role fighter aircraft, Il-78 tanker aircraft to be used as platform for Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), Mi-17-IV military transport helicopters, R-77 air-to-air missiles, Kilo class/type 877E submarines, frigates, Ka-31 Helix airborne early warning helicopters, aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, MiG-29K, including MiG-29KUB version for use on aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, Ka-27PL (Ka-28 version) and Ka-31 helicopters; T-90 tanks, fire control radar, air and sea surveillance radar, combat radar, aircraft radar, anti-tank and anti- ship missiles, etc... The value of projects under the current long-term defence cooperation programme up to 2010 is generally agreed to be around $9 billion to $10 billion.'
The long term defence deals and smoothening the friendship pathway till Vladimir Putin is finally ensconced as Russia's president next year was more important. For us, Putin's return holds greater significance than anything else in bilateral ties.
Putin's ascendancy to the top job might be the longest one, till 2024, if all goes well. It will see at least three Chinese presidents and an equal number of Indian prime ministers. If that occurs, Putin will be the longest-serving ruler at the Kremlin after Josef Stalin.
Antony discussed military and technology cooperation with Russia's Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as a follow-up to the 10th meeting of the intergovernmental commission held in 2010, which was organised after the 2009 agreement on military cooperation valid till 2020.
Russia is the only country to have such a long-lasting agreement with India on military cooperation.
Remember, 2009 was the first year of the newly elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev after Putin's eight-year stint. Putin could not continue as president under the then prevailing constitutional provision providing a maximum of two successive presidential terms of four years each.
The 2009 military cooperation agreement was in fact drafted during Putin's regime and signed when Medvedev took over following a mutually agreed arrangement. Medvedev has had the Russian constitution amended, facilitating a six-year period for the president for two successive terms.
The spectre of seeing soon a more forceful Putin, powered with an enhanced two-term mandate of six years each, has terrified the West, which is portraying Russia under Putin-2 becoming more autocratic and militarised.
But in reality it is the fear of losing unchallenged Western, nay American supremacy, in a Putin era that may encourage the Russia-China-India equation overwhelming US interests and power play in this region.
Russia has remained a trustworthy ally of India so far. Though Moscow extracted a heavy price for its friendship, it never ditched New Delhi at any critical time.
It is such a rare phenomenon in the contemporary world scenario of shifting friends and changing goalposts that India too gulped some bitter experiences and remain loyal to the all weather friend.
The United States, possibly due to historical reasons and Jawaharlal Nehru's obsession with Socialist regimes, never proved a reliable democratic ally. Washington found autocratic rulers more comfortable and put its strategic eggs in the basket of India's arch enemy, Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi, as a great nationalist leader, knew this. That was the time when the US-Pakistan military nexus was in full play and Pakistan was also strategically collaborating closely with China, thus putting India on the adverse side of the two big powers, the US and China.
The erstwhile Soviet Union too needed India to contain China and Pakistan, continue its comfort levels of operations in Afghanistan and resist US plans in the region while reaching out to the Third World with our help.
India's position as a genuine non-aligned country helped Moscow no end. Having forged contextual convergence of geo-political strategic interests, the historic Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed on August 9, 1971 in New Delhi.
The treaty helped us significantly during the war with Pakistan that winter, when the US sent its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India and help Pakistan. India-Soviet cooperation went much beyond military ties.
Articles 8, 9, and 10 of the Treaty commits both countries 'to abstain from providing any assistance to any third party that engages in armed conflict with the other' and 'in the event of either party being subjected to an attack or threat thereof to immediately enter into mutual consultations.'
In the post-Soviet era, the Russian Federation remained committed to friendship with India, but small hiccups began to surface.
Delayed supplies of military spare parts, frequent MiG crashes, made South Block rethink its huge military hardware orders. India had ordered 16 MiG-29Ks for $650 million in 2004, intended to fly off the Russian-built aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. A repeat order for $1.5 billion was placed in early 2010 for 29 additional MiG-29Ks.
Post the Cold War, a shift in US policy towards Pakistan, coupled with growing Russian-China cooperation, which heralds an era of bitter conflict and distrust for each other, India too is ready to have a relook at its complete dependence on Moscow.
This position is reinforced with new equations in Russia-China-India cooperation expressed through the coming together of the three major powers on economic platforms like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, SCO, which was intially resisted by India, possibly fearing American annoyance.
With the imminent US withdrawal from Afghanistan and easing of tensions in the region, India has now sought full membership of SCO, which has been accepted.
Besides Islamist terrorism, which threatens India, Russia and China, the US geo-politics of dominance is a factor that make the three giants work together. But this cooperation must be tested at every level. While cooperation is a good word, India must begin reducing its dependence on Russia and opt for producing indigenously spare parts for military hardware supplied by Russia.
The astounding levels of Russia-China military cooperation must make India cautious. Post the US withdrawal of Afghanistan, Russia also seems keen on improving relations with Pakistan.
In this context, India will be advised to welcome Putin wholeheartedly, yet build its independent capabilities. Putin has a tough guy image; his popularity powers him to take on the West and challenge American positions. Let him do that.
India with its fragmented polity cannot hope to do likewise. Hence, India must not burn its boats with the West, which remains ideologically close, as a democratic, plural, multi-religious and multi-cultural bloc.
SCO and BRICS notwithstanding, our Look East policy must also be reinvigorated and trusted democratic friends like Japan and Korea should not be isolated on our radar of foreign relations.
In diplomacy, like in politics, there are no permanent friends or foes. Only interests guide policy. The same principle must be true for India-Russia relations in the coming Putin era.
Tarun Vijay is a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and a national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party.