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Russia Perceptively Retrieves Policy Drift in South Asia Policy towards Pakistan

Paper No. 6185                                 Dated 18-Oct-2016

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Russia has finally positively acted in retrieving its South Asia policy drift towards Pakistan witnessed recently in Russia-India Summit on the side-lines of BRICS Summit in Goa last weekend. Credit should go to PM Modi to induce Russia to do so.

The above is evidenced by nearly twelve odd agreements signed therein, with the major ones covering major defence purchases by India in terms of advanced S-400 Air defence systems, 200 Kamov helicopters and two frigates for the Indian Navy. Besides Russia has contracted to build additional nuclear reactors to boost India’s nuclear-power generation.

Surely, two factors would have weighed heavily in the revised policy directions of Russia. The major consideration would have been that was it geopolitically wise for Russia to endanger its time-tested relationship with an Emerging Power like India for an uncertain new relationship with a duplicitous Pakistan which could soon become a liability, notwithstanding China underwriting it.

The second major consideration that seemed to have worked is that Russia may have perceived a small window of opportunity that some major defence deals could work out sensing that India’s war-preparedness could prompt it to turn to Russia foe speedy deliveries and at competitive rates.

The third consideration which may have come into play is that Russia recognised the intensity of Indian public opinion that surfaced against Russia’s decision to conduct Joint Military Exercises with the Pakistan Army and that too in Pakistan, insensitively, not cancelled despite the backdrop of Pakistan Army attacks at Indian Army Base Camp at Uri in September 2016. Major Powers have recognised that Indian public opinion does count and cannot be ignored.

Indian PM Modi deserves credit also because without the additives of his personal diplomacy and being able to market India well geopolitically, surely these factors would have worked in making Russia realise that petulance does not pay in international relations and that too not in Russia-India privileged strategic partnership.

Reflected many a times in my past writings was an advocacy that in view of India’s sizeable outlays on defence purchases in the next decade or so amounting to over a hundred billion dollars, India should use the strategy of strategic and political ‘quid pro quos’ for placing arms supplies orders with a particular country. This could have been a possible factor that could have come into play. It should be in play in every major defence deal.

Some may ask the question that how would India turning to Russia once again for major military purchases affect the growing and reinforcing US-India Strategic Partnership? It is my assessment that it should not substantively affect the growing proximity of India to the United States. India’s strategic relationships with Russia and the United States operate at two distinct and separate levels in two separate geopolitical spheres.

Regular readers of my SAAG Papers would recall that in the middle of the last decade one argued that in terms of reverberations in Russia of the growing strategic partnership of India with the United States, the indicators were that Russia was too mature to react against India conscious of the fact that the ‘China Factor’ was directing India. If Russia lately signalled a tilt towards Pakistan then that was due to Chinese pressure and that quid pro quos would have worked.

Tangentially, Russia’s retrieval of its policy drift against India in India towards Pakistan and the cementing of mega billion dollars defence deals coincident with the BRICS Summit in Goa, the import would have not been lost on China. That should be a feeling of satisfaction for India moreso that at this Summit Russia did send out firm messages on Pakistan’s state –sponsored terrorism.

Concluding one would like to quote PM Modi’s use of the Russian proverb at Goa that “One Old Friend is better than Two New Friends” is applicable more to Russia than India. India has been a better friend to Russia than Pakistan can ever be. That is both a strategic and also a geopolitical reality.