Professor Archana Upadhyay: India is concerned about Russia's growing friendship with China

Professor Archana Upadhyay: India will never sacrifice its national interests for anyone

Pravda.Ru special correspondent Daria Aslamova was in India to meet with Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Archana Upadhyay. During the interview, we spoke about how the NWO influenced relations between Russia and India, why Delhi is concerned about the friendship between Moscow and Beijing, which side India is going to take in rebuilding the world, and why India does not trust the Belt and Road Initiative.

Good afternoon, we are going to speak about relations not only between India and Russia, but also about the relations within BRICS. BRICS is going to celebrate two decades of history soon. Every organisation starts from many speeches and meetings before it can be beneficial to its members. What profit does India get from BRICS? Has it achieved anything or is it just another membership in another political organisation? Is it just a political platform for India or something more?

I think it's a very important platform and not just a political platform. The members of BRICS are very important countries nations in their own. They serve as the foundation of what we describe as the multipolar world, a world order within the system of a multipolar system. BRICS has been playing a very, very important role. The BRICS countries are very important in every sense, politically, economically and strategically. India today is most populated country in the world, it is also the largest fastest economy in the world. It ranks as the fifth largest economy in the world today and by the year 2027 it may end up as the third largest economy in the world. It gives India a unique position in the political economic cloud, which is unmatched. India, realises the importance of platforms such as the BRICS in the sense of an alternative viewpoint and alternative discourse. I would say that BRICS is not merely a talking shop, it may look like so at times, but the truth is that it is not something which is anti-West. India would not like to see it like this. It may be a non-western kind of a formation, but it's certainly not anti-West because if you look at India's engagement with the rest of the world, you will see that the Western world clearly occupies a center state. India's engagement with the US, the EU and other countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan shows that India has not formed part of any formation, which is anti-West. India seeks is multi-alignment, which clearly means that India's national interest are at the core of its engagement with the rest of the world.

In Russia, we usually say — you can not sit on two chairs. It appears to me that India prefers to sit on many chairs.

India has been sitting on many chairs successfully. The fact is that every country in the world wishes to engage with India. It is so evident, even after the war that broke out in Ukraine. That put a lot of pressure on India in many ways. India was very clear about its stance on the war. Prime Minister Modi has made it very clear — this is not an era of war. He talks about diplomacy and negotiations. His message is: there is no alternative to negotiations. If the war continues for a long time, it has already been two years, it makes things pretty difficult for India. There is a lot of pressure for India here: the disruption in supply chains and the kind of politics that has emerged both inside and outside the UN. India has to face the adverse backlash of all the sanctions that have been imposed against Russia, as well as about the position that India has taken in the UN regarding the voting on several resolutions. A negotiation settlement at the earliest would solve everybody interests, including India's. India is willing to play a certain role to contribute to the dialogue between the parties to the conflict, India's External Affairs Minister said. India can not assign this role to itself. If you look at the last two years of India's foreign policy and diplomacy, India has been engaging aggressively with the rest of the world, and so has the rest of the world too. India is not part of the sanctions regime, but the West has not put any conditions on India to change that. Even US officials have repeatedly said they were mindful of India's historic ties with Russia. Hence, India's engagement with Russian, including the supplies of crude oil at discounted price, is understandable. In other words, the West would not want to jeopardise its relations with India on account of India's stance on the war in Ukraine. All that means that each side is keen to have deep and meaningful ties with India. Many countries know that India is the brightest star in the horizon of the economic road and opportunities that India can provide. The largest population is here, over 60 percent of this population accounts for young people too. It means working hands and working brains for the rest of the world.

India and Russia have always had very good and positive relations, but today we have serious problems. Let's be frank here — what kind of relations do we have between India and Russia today? Russia gives India oil, and India gives Russia medications and something else. There is a huge imbalance in trade turnover — $60 billion last year. India's exports to Russia account for only 3.3 percent, with is ridiculous, because India is such a huge economy. There are so many things that India can offer. What can India offer Russia, honestly?

The Indian Foreign Minister said that the Indian-Russian ties are one of the steadiest ties in the turbulent world. The ties between different countries are not always smooth. If we compare India's relationship with the rest of the world, its relations with Russia have been the steadiest, despite all the challenges, such as the disintegration of the USSR and the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. The relationships has come under intense scrutiny globally, even inside India and inside Russia. The development of our relationship has slowed down. Yet, both sides have made their efforts to bring the relationship back on track. In December 2023, the Indian Foreign Minister was in Russia for five days. This is a very long period for a foreign minister of such a busy country as India. Usually it's only one day in one destination. The idea was to reset the ties. Actually, there has been a certain development that has led to understanding that the relationship has slowed down. Yet, the five-day visit has set the tome for what the relationship will be like in the future. It will be focused on nuclear energy, the free trade agreement within the Eurasian Economic Union. This is a huge market for India. A lot of brands have left Russia because of the crippling sanctions, but this also creates opportunities for Indian businessmen.

However, it appears that Indian businesses are too cautions in this respect.

They are, because they have ties with the West. They are not very sure how their relationship with Russia is going to impact their relations with Europe and America. Oil and gas is one area, and the Russian government is encouraging in regard to that. India is one of the non-Arctic actors that is keen to be a stakeholder in Russia's Arctic region. It goes about exploration of mineral resources and natural wealth. There are no out of bound places for India. You probably know that there are Indians that have reached the warfront to act as helpers in the Russian Army. This is a matter of great concern in India and for the Minister of External Affairs. The Russian Arctic offers such opportunities as climate change issues, science, but it's not really about business in the first place. It goes about studies, collaboration, and scientific research. In fact, Indians are already there. There are Indians working in Karelia as welders and other technical occupations. In India, there are a lot of skilled people willing to go everywhere. Some even go to Israel in the midst of this war in the Middle East.

I've heard about the efforts that the Israeli government has been taking to find workers in India, because Palestinian workers stopped working there. But this is not good for you, because India is losing its reputation in the Middle East in this way, It is already losing it.

It's not good for us, but it's a different matter. We can't stop people from going there, because we are a free country. They go to Canada, Australia, they will even go to Siberia if allowed. There is a huge Indian diaspora in the Middle East. There are people there working in different capacities and sending remittances to India.

India is such a wealthy country, but the gap between the poor and the rich in India is enormous. Everybody is waiting for the moment for India to develop into another China. China used to be so poor, and now look at China today, even though China is not a democracy as it has one ruling party. Can you repeat China's success?

You have answered the question yourself. China is not a democracy, China is China and India is India. In India, every decision is debated and scrutinised. The government can fall over one small move. There are elections every six months in different states. Even if they are state elections, but the implication is national and even international at times. 75 years in the life of a nation is too small a time. We got our independence in 1947. The horror of partition is still alive among all those who were impacted by it both in the eastern frontier, Bangladesh and in the western frontier, because we had East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Our neighbours are not necessarily very friendly. China too has a very special relationship with Russia. China is a strategic neighbour for Russia and India, but it is also a big pain for us in many ways. Partnership beyond limits that Russia has with China will certainly affect India-Russia relations.

How can you be a BRICS member if everybody knows that India and China are enemies?

No, India and China are not enemies, they are adversaries. If you look at the trade volume between India and China, you will see that it is huge. India and China re the BRICS founding members — they are in the RIC part of the abbreviation (Russia, India, China — ed.). India and China are members of many other international forums too, like G20.

When you talk to Indian political scientists or journalists about China, they always speak about it as the cat-and-dog relationship.

The border issues between the two have not been resolved. However, there is a belief that you can't change your neighbours. You have to learn how to engage and live with them. Negotiations are the only way out. If you do not join them at international forums, then it would mean that you are closing your door for our neighbours. This is not a very practical approach in international relations and diplomacy. These international forums give you an opportunity to spread your views to other member states. And those countries that want to develop their ties with India will make sure that India's relations with China will not go out of hand.

Is that why India is at BRICS?

We are at BRICS for other reasons too. We can speak there, but it's only one part of it. The gains can always be bigger. The world that we live in is not fair. Look at the UN — it needs reforms.

Do you think the UN will survive?

It has survived so far because there are other countries that let it survive — the ones the benefit from the membership and their veto power role. They will not let reforms come. They all keep the UN as it is. However, there is a strong need to reform the UN, and if it doesn't happen, it will become irrelevant. The League of Nations, for example, is finished. From India's point of view, it happened so because the largest and most populous country in the world will not find a seat in the UN Security Council. The largest democracy in the world will not find a seat in the UN Security Council. Yet, all those countries that have been doing what they should not be doing — they have permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Of course, there i debate going on in India about the point of sending our soldiers to peacekeeping operations to die here and there if India is not allowed a seat at the high table. If you look at the journey that India has had — it has been a remarkable journey. There is a huge difference between India before 1947 and India today. There was omnipresent poverty and disparity in the 50s and 60s, but today, the largest middle class in the world is in India — about 260 million people, and this class is becoming bigger and bigger every day. Challenges in the functioning democracy are always big anywhere in the world. Yet, I feel that India's track record has been remarkable. This is one of the reasons why many other countries believe that India has a big role to play in the structuring of the new world order.

Let's hope so. They call India the global swing state. For how long are you going to swing? Russia is now opposing the collective West. After the hot stage of this war, I believe, there will be an agreement achieved, like in the Yalta Conference, and then there will be another cold war. It means that India can not swing permanently. Russia and India are friends, including historically, so India must take some part in the redivision of the world. On which side will you be?

Not at the cost of India's national interests: feeding its millions, ensuring that technologically we reach a level that remains international in every sense, securing our borders, ensuring that the sailing routes across the Pacific are free. As long as our national interests are observed, we can go on this way, as every country does.

If we speak about friendship, we are much more clear about it in Russia. You may have to sacrifice some of your national interests for the sake of friendship if you want to keep it. There is now no stability between India and Russia — there is rather stagnation.

It is a pragmatic alliance that will determine India's foreign policy choices. Friendship is a very beautiful term that has survived in our relationship. If you recall the 1990s, it was a very difficult period. India felt let down by Russia in a huge way, especially with the cryogenic engines, if you recall. Our people have not forgotten that. Nowadays, there was a time when nearly 60-70 percent of defence inventory came from Russia. Russia used to be the largest supplier, but it has come down to 37 percent, as SIPRI has revealed recently. That said, India has to diversify its defence procurement: France and Israel are coming, the US and the UK are coming too. One has to be realistic in foreign policy and especially when it concerns your national interest. Friendship will have to balance to that, it can not be part of decor, especially in a democracy like India, where accountability is fixed at every step. We have a very strong government and Mr. Modi looks like a very strong prime minister, but still, there are several states in India that are governed by opposition parties under very strong leaders. One small wrong move that may compromise your country's national interests may lead to fatal political outcomes. It's always about weighing the consequences. China is an elephant in the room. Russia's very special ties with China is a matter of big debate and concern in India. For how long can we rely on one source of defence supplies? What kind of pressure can China put on Russia in the future and what its implications on India will be? The US perhaps understands that. Washington wants India to be a balancer. When you talk about the multipolar world, it also means the multipolar Asia. It can't be China-dominated Asia.

Do you think that Russia is dominated by China?

No, it's not about that.

Russia has 9,000 km of border with China.

India has faced tensions too at this respect. This is exactly the same that happened to Russia in 1969, when there was the Ussury border battle. We had a similar situation in Galwan. Russia and China have resolved the border battle, but India has not, despite sincere efforts from our side and, as we would like to believe, from their side. It's difficult to engage with China. Speaking about BRICS, India has some concerns about it, because China was keen to bring in Pakistan. The whole world knows what kind of relationship India has with Pakistan. India has had three major wars with Pakistan. We do not have a simple solution to this. That's why India will follow the pattern of multi-alignment in its foreign policy despite issues with the US. Engagement with the US is going to expand and become more meaningful for years to come. India would not want to end up as America's Ukraine. I am sure Russia also wants to have India as a balancer. Two or three weeks ago, the foreign minister made a very important statement. He said that if you do not give Russia options, Russia will fall deeper and deeper into China's embrace. If you impose all the crippling sanctions on Russia, Moscow will have little choice, but to engage more and more with China, and perhaps on China's terms.

This is a question about who uses whom — Russia uses China or vice versa, or maybe we both use each other. This is pragmatic relationship. China never has friends, шежы a good neighbour and that's all. Maybe you exaggerate China's influence on Russia?

India's experience with China has not been very good, especially when it comes to Kashmir. Russia and China blocks all of India's proposals to declare certain groups as international terrorist groups. India is watching the deepening relationship between Russia and China. Russia needs to come up with a plan to deal with eventualities. When something happens, it happens suddenly, without announcement. Despite all the Western pressure, India has not condemned Russia nor has it used anything that would indicate India's unwillingness to celebrate its very special relationship with Russia. The pressure is big even inside the country. Most common people and political commentators in India are supportive of Russia. In general, however, the war in Ukraine lasts for more than two years now.

Doesn't India profit from this conflict? India would have never had so much oil at discount prices if it wasn't for this war?

You do not want this war to go on and on just because you're getting discounted crude oil because of it. Russia diverted its oil to China and India, but there are many other issues related to this field especially with regard to the payment for this oil in Indian rupees. What will Russia do with the rupees? Either you invest in this country or use a bypass route through Iran that works with rupees. War is a situation that does not help anybody including Russia. The fact that Russia has to part with its oil at a discounted price is not a happy situation for Russia. The West is already accusing India of benefiting from blood money. This is not a label that India would want to carry on itself. Russia is in a situation when it can't sell its oil, and some of the oil that comes to India then goes to Europe and Europe is buying it. The big question is about the negotiated settlement that would be achieved on terms agreeable for both parties. The diminished Russia is not good for the world, for the Global South and not for Europe. India realises that. They learned their lessons from the Treaty of Versailles. That is why it is a negotiated settlement that is required. The disruption in supply chains is affecting everybody. Anything that happens anywhere in the world impacts everyone. New routes have to be found because of that.

War is always a tragedy, but it also drives progress, even though it may sound cynical, but it's true. Russia may have never tired to find close connections with India if was not for this war with the Collective West. This war has opened up new opportunities.

It is Russia's compulsion to engage with someone else if it can not engage with the Collective West. India believes that the canvas is very large. India has a huge, globally recognised potential. Europe wants to engage with India too, even though Europeans always brag about their values and human rights. they are willing to dilute it. The war is a cleaner of illusions for India — what is good and what is bad, where Indian national interests lie and how they are going to be served. The foreign minister recently said: India's ties with Russia have served India's national interest well. As long as it continues to serve well, India will continue to engage with Russia and many other countries that will enable India to reach that destination in terms of development and progress in terms of being an important power, an important pole in the multipolar arrangement. India can't be part of an arrangement in which it would be told that it can not have access to the Pacific Ocean. India is an important member of the Quad. An increasing number of countries want to join the Quad (an alliance between the USA, Japan, India and Australia - The Quad, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. - Ed.). It can not be the China-centric vision that will define India's engagement with the rest of the world.

Quad is linked with the United States. Having good relationship with the US is always a bad recommendation for so many countries in different parts of the world. If you go to Africa, the Middle East — they do not welcome a good relationship with America there.

I agree with you. Look at the G20. Why did it take so long for Africa to be given a representation? It happened in Delhi. The G20 is being broadened to bring in more stakeholders, representatives of the diversity of the world, and this is exactly what Russia wants. India and Russia are on the same plane, but they get caught up in different situations, and their approaches may differ. Yet, there is understanding between the two countries that this relationship has to be maintained. India and Russia are important stakeholders of the new multipolar world. But India is not anti-West, even though there is colonial legacy issue. Russia has never been a colonial power and Indians respect Russia for it. The way that Russia is dealing today with Africa, Latin America and Asian countries is itself remarkable. When it comes to the goodwill, the social capital that Russia enjoys among the peoples of the Global South — it is immense. That is something the West has not been able to counter. Suffice it to recall what the West has done in Iraq, in Libya, Afghanistan and everywhere else. Not being anti-West does not mean loving the West. It's all about being pragmatic. You always have to choose your partners depending on the situations you find yourself in. India's neighbour is volatile. We do not trust the Belt and Road Initiative either. There are embedded conditionalities. Small countries have fallen into the debt trap. Countries like Italy are being open about what they think about the BRI. That is why connectivity alternative routes have also emerged. Central Asian countries are facing social tensions because of the BRI. China aims to encircle out neighbourhood — Bangladesh, mMaldives, Sri Lanka with different projects. All these issues are of serious concern. These issues have to be factored by a country that is 75 years old as a modern nations, aspires to play a global role to provide for its people and pay its democracy tax. All this makes it so difficult for even small decisions to be speeded up.

Democracy is your strength and your big weakness.

It can become a big weakness. Out general elections are very difficult. It is fought on the streets. Rajeev Gandhi, our former prime minister, was assassinated in the camping trailer. South Asia is too volatile, some of the world's worst assassinations have happened here. Few of our neighbours have been able to retain democratic credentials, but India has. That makes India much more accountable to its own people and to the rest of the world given all the diversity and powerful opinions. The challenge continues.

Thank you very much.

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Author`s name Daria Aslamova
Editor Dmitry Sudakov