Does Russia Need India

It is wrong to say that Russian economy is ailing

Adhocism is haunting India's foreign policy balking a clear expression of its standpoint even on crucial issues like Iraq. Last week its foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal was in Moscow conveying to the Russian leaders India's agreement with their demand for a political settlement to the war. Based solely on their responses to the Iraq situation, there has been some kite flying in the Indian media about the status of Indo-Russian relations, dismissing the summit meetings as of no significance. They see less and less of India in Moscow's calculations. There does not seem to be any substance in these estimates, arising probably from Delhi's ambivalence on US action.

If the collapse of the Soviet state gave birth to new equations in diplomacy, America's unilateral intervention in Iraq has squashed them even before they achieved consummation. In a scenario where every country needs the goodwill of every other country, nobody spells out in haste his country's foreign policy profile. Even critics of George Bush do not go farther than to urge him to exhaust the UN option. Today, there is a big gulf between members of the European Union and the White House that may disappear when a Democratic dispensation comes into place.

All this gloomy astrology about Indo-Russian relations is based on the flimsy assumption that a very pragmatic Vladimir Putin does not need India as any kind of prop. He has an agenda in which Russian revival comes first. This goes against the assertion that Russia does not need India. India's growing market is a magnet that does not brook any book of rules. It is world's fourth largest economy, a chunk of which is coveted by any country bent upon rebuilding its economy. Putin is not taking chances and so does not put all his eggs in the European Union market.

It is also wrong to say that Russian economy is ailing. Read what Daniel Treisman (Foreign Affairs, Nov.-Dec., 2002) has to say: "Russia's political system and economy have finally stabilized. The economy has enjoyed three years of growth and a stock market boom so impressive that even those foreign investors who fled the country after the 1998 financial crisis are creeping back. Commentators no longer complain about anarchy and stagnation."

True, Putin is lobbying for entry into Nato and WTO and if possible for a toehold in the G8 club. This does not imply any loss of interest in non-western arena. It must be remembered that he had several times said that Russia belonged as much to Asia as it is to Europe. Till a decade ago, the staunchest ideological allies of the former Soviet Union were, with the exception of the Warsaw Pact countries, outside Europe. As a matter of fact, the first 20-year friendship pact between India and the Soviet Union emerged in response to an American threat stationed in the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh war in 1971. Today, Russia under Putin has neither enemies nor friends.

Regardless of whether it is Vajpayee's government or a successor government, India too has the same options as Russia has till a new and manageable world order takes shape. Both countries are in search of markets and investments. Even with France and Germany, it is not quits with the US or vice versa. No American economist thinks that the world is dependent on the health of US economy alone and therefore that it can take markets for granted. Indian media soothsayers have got it all wrong. There are several positive aspects to Indo-Russian collaboration that they have ignored.

India is one of the biggest buyers of Russian military hardware. In a $ 3 billion package deal, Delhi is leasing nuclear bombers and a nuclear-propelled submarine from Russia. Combined with the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile developed jointly by both countries, India's nuclear deterrent will at last get real teeth. It is believed that India will use the Brahmos to develop a long-range nuclear weapon delivery system that will help India to outstrip Pakistan's capabilities and provide a deterrent against Chinese capabilities. Many countries have already begun making inquiries and seeking collaboration in the field. This, I am sure, is much more than making a quick buck through arms sales.

These defense deals have angered Pakistan compelling it to issue a statement on the eve of Gen. Parvez Musharraf's visit to Moscow declaring that the Delhi-Moscow defense protocol would exacerbate the already tense situation in the region. For this reason, nobody claims that Putin prefers India to Pakistan. Yet nobody can ignore the long history of Indo-Soviet commitment to nonalignment as a bargaining lever with the west. From this arises the significance of Putin briefing Vajpayee both before and after Gen. Musharraf's Russian visit.

Agreed, Russia's overview of the Kashmir problem is different from the unstinted support lent by the old Soviet regime. This did not prevent Putin from declaring time and again that an Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir is possible only when Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism. There is not much substance in Putin setting up a joint working group on terrorism with Pakistan much before he did with India. It is like setting a thief to catch a thief. India sees its relations with Russia more as recognition of geo-strategic realities rather than a resurrection of an ideological honeymoon.

As democracy is striking roots in Russia, it is natural for it to look to India, the world's largest and most successful democracy where elections are held every five years or even more frequently under the vigil of an autonomous election commission. No other country in the region has that distinction. It cannot discount the potential of India to play a role in working for an equitable world order. Russia needs the help of China and India equally to fight unilateralism.

It is not wise to think that foreign affairs are run in simple black and white terms. Putin is made of different stuff. He recognizes the need to regard every country as useful and friendly till the contrary is proved. He needs to build an economically prosperous and diplomatically influential Russia and restore to it its old status as a power to reckon with. In this drive he will need the goodwill of every country and he knows it. To think that Russia loves China more or Pakistan more is to ignore this truth.

The annual summits are a unique feature of Indo-Russian relations. Putin visited Delhi twice and Vajpayee traveled to Moscow twice. Putin is a man in hurry and he does not believe in ceremonial visits nor does he make sentimental statements. To suggest that India does not figure in Russian calculations is to underestimate India's place in any emerging world order and to question Putin's faculty of discrimination. Such questions as "Does Russia need India" are a product of political peeve.

Delhi-Moscow relations are mutually beneficial and are a result of political foresight. Neither side has an interest in gaining undue advantage. They know their strengths and weaknesses, a knowledge that will help both in joining hands in neutralizing any undesirable post-Iraq fallout. As each of them keeps its independence and autonomy in forging new friendships and alliances, it is relevant to recall the words of chairman of Duma's committee on defense A.I.Nikolaev: "Russia needs India as much as India needs Russia. We understand perfectly well that in strengthening the defense of India we thereby strengthen our own security. "

Dasu Krishnamoorty Specially for PRAVDA.Ru

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