Russia’s promiscuous relationship with Pakistan while at the same time professing enduring commitment to its long-standing ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ with India should no longer fool India. Contextually, Russian troops landing in Pakistan for joint exercises with Pakistan Army is an unfriendly act against India.
With India-Pakistan relations at an all-time high inflexion point due to the provocative attacks by Pakistan Army affiliated Jihadi terrorist groups on the Indian Army Base Camp at Uri and with Indian public opinion incensed to a point demanding strong reprisals against Pakistan Army, in the interests of its ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ the least that Russia could have done was to postpone the joint exercises till things cooled down, even if it did not want to cancel this exercise with the Pakistan Army.
That Russia decided to go ahead with this joint exercise with the Pakistan Army displays an utter Russian disregard for Indian political sensitivities. Ironically, the joint Russian-Pakistan military exercise is focused on ‘counter-terrorism operations’ with a country that is involved in de cades long proxy terrorist war against India. Pakistan is also widely recognised as the incubator of global terrorism. It is doubly ironical that this joint Russian-Pakistan military exercise is being held on Pakistani soil, the defiled soil from which Pakistan Army affiliated Jihadi terrorists groups have inflicted wanton death and destruction on hundreds of Indian lives and property.
Still more ironical and adding insult to injury is the reality that initial reports after the Uri attacks indicated that Russia had called off the Russia-Pakistan joint military exercise in Pakistan, seemingly out of respect for Indian political sensitivities. That Russia did a U-TURN on its earlier declared intentions logically indicates that Russia has succumbed to Chinese pressures as China is Pakistan’s much vaunted strategic patron. Chinese pressure would have been intense on Russia so as to bail out Pakistan from a virtual global isolation.
So where does the above changing trends in Russia’s foreign policy of a strategic and political pivot to the China-Pakistan Axis leave India and the future course of Russia-India ‘Special Strategic Partnership? Especially so, when Indian public opinion does not take kindly to countries which align with Pakistan. In Indian public opinion perceptions simple linear equations exist and that is ‘Either you are with India or you are against India when you cavort with India’s implacable enemies.’
That the Russian strategic and political pivot to the China-Pakistan Axis is a strategic pivot to India’s two implacable enemies, namely China and Pakistan, ‘doubly reinforces’ Indian public perceptions that Russia has indulged in a well-calibrated unfriendly act against India and the Indian people.
When equated in terms of human relations, Russia’s promiscuity in getting attracted to Pakistan, for whatever reasons, amounts to Russia being an unfaithful partner in the Russia-India Special Partnership. And therefore, India needs to go in for a divorce from this Special Strategic Partnership which now exists only in name.
Recently, one Indian defence journal devoted a Special Issue advocating as to the imperatives of sustaining the Russia-India Special Strategic Partnership with a lot of extolling by former Indian Ambassadors and Former Indian Armed Forces Senior Officers recalling all that Russia had done for India in the past.
Rebutting this advocacy of Indian Russia-well-wishers I have two simple questions to pose (1) What has Russia done for India lately and whether the Russian pivot to the China-Pakistan Axis is an India-friendly act? (2) Is Russia committed to assist India in attaining the status and role of a Major Global Power?
In strategic and political dimensions Russia has not done anything substantial for India which could be quoted in favour of Russia that it still attaches value to its Special Strategic Relationship with India. Russian strategic and political moves and actions in the recent past have all been China-centric and promotive of China’s strategic interests. Most of such moves have been at cross-purposes with Indian national security interest.
Russia’s strategic pivot to the China-Pakistan Axis is decidedly unfriendly to Indian security interests. In strategic terms it amounts to Russia tilting towards India’s confirmed enemies, singly and jointly, aiming at the ‘containment of India’. In global perceptions it is likely to be viewed as the first sign of the emergence of a China-Pakistan-Russia Axis.
Moving to the next and most crucial question for India at his critical juncture in its ascendant trajectory is whether Russia is committed to facilitating the emergence of India as a Major Global Power, two big negatives hover on the horizon. In the immediate perspective, had it been so, the Russia would not have made a strategic and political pivot to Pakistan. This itself also negates any long-term perspectives. Further, the tenor of the Russia-China strategic nexus strongly indicates that Russia is highly unlikely to tilt towards India and build it to major global power status as China world not stand for it, and Russia cannot afford to jettison China.
How intensely Russia is subservient to China stands reflected in one of my SAAG Paper written after the presentation of my Paper on South China Sea disputes in Moscow organised by the Russian Academy of Social Sciences, the noted Russian strategic academics who presented Papers at this Seminar were all highly tilted towards China’s stand on its sovereignty over the whole of the South China Sea maritime expanse. It was a glaring betrayal of Russia’s yet another strategic partnership, this time with Vietnam. When I questioned the Russian hosts why the change, one was met with a sardonic smile. This only reinforces my contentions in the preceding paragraph.
Before I am accused of being cynically inclined against Russia and Russian foreign policies, the regular readers of my SAAG Papers of the first half of the last decade would recall how strongly I advocated Russia’ strategic resurgence to balance China’s military rise and for global strategic equilibrium.
It also needs to be pointed out that Russia is doing no favours to India presently whether in the field of construction of nuclear reactors or in the field of military hardware. Russia-India engagement in these two fields is ‘purely economic in content’ with no strategic underpinnings. One could sardonically dismiss these moves as retaining some components of a hedging strategy.
The last major question that needs to be addressed is as to whether India needs to be politically and strategically perturbed by Russia’s strategic and political pivot to Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Axis? The answer is that India should not be perturbed at all. The prevailing balance of power in Indo Pacific Asia and at the global level is heavily weighted against the Russia-China Strategic nexus and Russia’s moves towards Pakistan in South Asia amount to no consequence.
At best, Russia’s moves towards Pakistan amount to poor strategic and political signalling to India to impede or slow its growing strategic proximity to the United States and the West. Russia may like to learn from the United States on the strategic and political costs of molly-coddling a dysfunctional and terrorist state like Pakistan.
In terms of concluding observations, one would like to emphasise that while one has argued that Russia’s tilt towards Pakistan is inconsequential, strategic and political prudence would demand that the Indian policy establishment keeps Russia’s moves in Pakistan under close scrutiny. India must also make serious attempts to sensitise the Russian policy establishment on Indian public perceptions on the gross insensitivity that Russia has displayed in not cancelling the joint military exercise with Pakistan against the backdrop of heightened India-Pakistan tensions in the wake of the Uri attacks. Thereafter, it is Russia’s call on what trajectory it wishes to adopt in relation to relations with India.
By Dr. Subhash Kapila