The United States must not be too hard on India at the Modi-Putin summit. For his own good
TThere will be a considerable degree of unease among officials in Washington DC as the India-Russia summit takes off in New Delhi on December 6. Worse yet, the so far exclusive “Quad” configuration of “2 + 2”. which is a twin dialogue between defense and foreign secretaries, must be reproduced with Russia. This should put a cat among the pigeons especially since the Russian leader, like Santa Claus, will come with gifts – in this case, the dreaded S-400 missiles. It will be an interesting summit in more ways than one.
The grumbling in Washington
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 beamed at Russian President Vladimir Putin by saying that even a child in India knew that Russia was India’s best friend. Today, almost everyone is familiar with the S-400, the air defense system that drives Washington to threaten sanctions under CAATSA (Counter America’s Opponents With Sanctions Law). This is a far-reaching bill, among others warns against sanctions against any country that buys weapons from Russia.
The severity of this legislation is partly due to allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections, and the Solar winds cyberattack among others. Since then, anti-russian legislation has been the rule in Congress, including proposals as strange as 2021 law holding Russia accountable for malicious activity, who wants to block the visas and assets of those implicated in the poisoning of eminent critics Alexei Navalny; and one SCAM Act (Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy Act), which wants more of the same.
Most of them do not pass the rally, but convey the meaning of Congress. With some 100,000 Russian soldiers now massed on the Ukrainian border, this ramp against Moscow is likely to worsen. The main republicans have writing to President Joe Biden demanding that the Ukrainians be armed. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Russia against a ‘big mistake’, while NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) launched a massive military exercise with a few 28,000 troops across Eastern Europe. Europe, however, is afraid of aggressive action, and Ukraine itself is far from flawless. Yet any display of friendship with Russia at this point will be viewed with hostility.
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Russian friend in need – subject to change
Most U.S. officials are well aware of the Indian military’s dependence on Russia for military operations, especially now with aggressive China at the gates. An opportune time report of the Congressional Research Service pointed out that Russia supplies nearly two-thirds (62%) of all Indian arms imports; that the naval fleet is almost entirely of Russian origin, while the army is dependent on spare parts, especially for its main battle tanks.
But military equipment is only part of a far-reaching relationship that includes joint production of the Brahmos missile, serial production of AK-203 rifles, and licensed production of Sukhoi-30, among others. Again, it’s not even just that. Think about the fact that India had to turn to Russia for a nuclear powered submarine, which was repeatedly refused by the United States, even though it later put in place AUKUS, which supplies the technology to Australia. Russia too deferred delivery of S-400 missiles to China during the Galwan crisis, although this was probably more due to the arrest of a scientist for espionage for China. But in India, it was seen as a sign of solidarity.
India’s military dependence has certainly diminished in recent years. During the Galwan crisis, emergency purchases came from the United States and Israel as well as Russia. The S-400 accord, however, will tip the scales again. Military experts describe this as an ideal weapon for India, capable of handling different ranges, low-flying stealth planes or cruise missiles at some capacity against incoming ballistic missiles. Its 400 km range capability means it can detect planes flying almost anywhere in Pakistan as well as provide a done to the Chinese border which effectively cancels out China’s nascent air capacity in terms of new airfields and its own missiles. This is the real thing, and there is no way India can do without it, given the tense situation.
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However, the bilateral relationship is far from stable. On Afghanistan, Russia leans for recognition of the Taliban regime, which it describes as “Interim Afghan government”, for reasons which include the Taliban’s bitter struggle against the Islamic State of Khorasan which threatens Russia’s “borders” in Central Asia and the desire to once again exert its influence in the region. He, therefore, abstained (with China) on a US resolution imposing severe conditions on the Taliban. India was ignored in the rush of dialogues, with Pakistan receiving much more attention. Russia even released its own version of the Delhi statement released after the National Security Advisers’ meeting, which was much less demanding of the Taliban.
The inclusion of India in the Quad – the group that includes Japan, the United States and Australia is far more troubling for Moscow. The discontent was evident in one month of April presser during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, when S. Jaishankar refused to endorse Lavrov’s comments on “counterproductive” alliances. More recently, during the virtual summit of the RIC (Russia, India, China), the declaration clearly refers to cooperation in “Asia-Pacific”, preferred term as more inclusive. Russia’s angst over increased cooperation between India and the United States also hinges on declining trade with India. This year, bilateral trade was at $ 1.8 billion compared to the United States, which is Delhi’s largest trading partner, with some 146 billion dollars in bilateral trade in 2019.
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The issue of a “2 + 2” dialogue appears to have been settled after Lavrov’s previous visit in April, when the ground was being prepared for the “deliverables” for the summit, and affirmed in a statement. call between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin. That with Indian participation in Russian-led military exercises such as ‘Zapad’ or even that of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in recent months, seems to aim to allay Russian fears of the formation of another “bloc”. Once the 2 + 2 format is launched, Delhi could invite Russia to multilateral exercises in the same “Quad spirit”, but involving other navies in the region, on the model of the recent Goa Symposium by the Indian Navy.
Fortunately, there are opportune ways to increase trade, along with a “strategic” complement. In 2019, India promised a $ 1 billion line of credit for the development of the Russian Far East. This seems to have only recently been energized by a “Energy office” opened in March, involving majors like Oil India Limited, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and others. It is not clear why India has taken so long to move forward, given that South Korea, Japan and China are already heavily invested in it. The Far East project envisions a maritime corridor from Vladivostok to Chennai, which is expected to cross the Arctic. This allows India access to the Arctic zone, seen as the next area of strategic competition, with China already qualifying itself as “State near the Arctic” much to the chagrin of the Arctic states. India’s investment in much-needed energy projects is expected to help boost trade by a billion dollars now to a level close to Russian trade with China, which is $ 40.207 billion. It’s a catch-up game that will be mutually beneficial.
Meanwhile, Washington has leeway to put aside CAATSA sanctions, as it did on the Germany-Russia Nord Stream 2 pipeline using technical interpretations to bypass it. It was as much to appease Germany as to realize that the project was almost finished. The Biden administration has slowed down hostility from Russia, a daunting task given the political mood. But the United States must realize that an India that can push back China – which no one has done yet – is worth more to American designs for Asia than a few missiles that have no presence in the region. maritime which is the concentration area of the United States. -Cooperation with India.
And finally on Afghanistan, Moscow should take into account the words of Foreign Minister Jaishankar speech at the Primakov Institute where he appeared to imply that stability in Afghanistan required India, Russia and Iran to work together. In other words, if India has to pay the costs of antagonizing the United States, it is better to pay the price. Russia’s pursuit of “stability” in Pakistan does not seem to have gone very far anyway.
The author is Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. She tweets @kartha_tara. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)
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