Friday, November 21, 2014

More Flux in South Asian Alignments

In July, I had written an essay in Economic Times arguing that closer Sino-Russian relations could spell trouble for India down the road.  As relations between the West and Russia tumble further, we can expect Moscow and Beijing to get closer.  This could have potential blowback on Russian-Indian relations.  Before his trip to US, Prime Minister Modi strongly defended Russia.  When he was asked by Fareed Zakaria about Russian annexation of Crimea, he replied in part:

"There's a saying in India that the person who should throw a stone first is the person who has not committed any sins.  In the world right now, a lot of people want to give advice, but look within them, and they, too, have sinned in some way.

Ultimately India's viewpoint is that efforts need to be made to sit together and talk and to resolve problems in an ongoing process."

Such support is understandable given India's long strategic association with Russia/Soviet Union. But this might become increasingly untenable, and New Delhi needs to be careful about how Russia's increasing closeness to China affects Indian interests.  India needs Russian support in a variety of international bodies, on a number of issues, from NSG membership to dealing with a post-American Afghanistan.  And of course, the Indian military is mostly still dependent on Russian arms. The question is whether Moscow's support to India on these issues will now weaken somewhat.

Now comes news that Russia and Pakistan are seeking somewhat closer military ties, news that has been largely ignored in the Indian media. The last time such ties developed was in the late 1960s, when the Soviet Union attempted a brief neutrality between the two countries in order to promote a South Asian settlement, hoping that a less divided subcontinent under Moscow's protection might help it against both Beijing and Washington.  That move went nowhere fast, annoying India without getting much out of Pakistan.  Maybe it will be no different this time either, but it bears watching.  President Putin will be in Delhi next month and it should give India some idea about Russian attitudes.  Of course, the fact that Modi has just invited Obama to be the Republic Day guest is not likely to go down well in Moscow. All in all, a period of greater flux and uncertainty in regional alignments.

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