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OP-ED: Russia and the Indo-China conflict

  • Published at 07:58 pm July 11th, 2020
BRICS refers to the five emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa BIGSTOCK

Peace must be maintained between India and China to ensure stability in the region

It is seldom that any conflict between two nations remains the conflict only for those in the international geopolitical scene. 

The past few days have developed into an anxious turn for both India and China with regard to the violent clash at the Indo-China border in Ladakh. Russia has close ties with both India and China, so this ongoing India-China conflict could mean a difficult time for the Russian foreign policy. 

Russian ties to India

India and Russia have a long-lasting friendship with each other since the time of India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The Soviet-Indian cultural exchange and the admiration of the USSR towards Bollywood is not an unknown fact. 

Even when the whole narrative of anti-Russia was taking place on the world stage during the Syrian crisis, India refrained from it. The perspective of the Indian foreign policy towards Russia comes from the legacy of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). 

The NAM was the association of the newly independent developing countries’ resolution to move away from being part of the race between the US and USSR. It expressed the aspirations of southern countries to democratize the international communication system and rebalance information flows worldwide.

The close ties with Russia are such that India’s defense purchases used to come solely from Russia. In recent years, India has consciously made the decision to diversify its defense purchases. 

Still, over 60% of the weapons systems used by the 1.5 million strong Indian armed forces are of Russian origin, though India has increasingly turned to the US, France, and Israel for arms imports over the last 15 years. 

On the other hand, with the escalating situation in Ladakh, India has pressurized Russia to expedite the delivery of all pending defense deliveries. According to the Global Firepower’s comparison of the military strength of India and China, the 2019 military expenditure of India and China stands at $279 billion and $4,000bn respectively. 

India had placed the order for five squadrons of S-400 surface air to missile systems which were originally to be delivered from October 2020 to the end of April 2023. India is seeking Russia’s intervention to gain better positioning in the current situation. 

Reflecting on the long Indo-Russian relation and knowing Russia’s close relationship with China as well, India has sought Russia to intervene and influence Beijing’s strict stance on the border issue

Russian ties to China

Russia and China have formed close alliances with each other. The US and EU have isolated Russia in the world political order, which has pushed Russia to form close connections with China. Moscow and Beijing have developed closer military collaborations.

It was not an easy start to their relationship. The cold war years witnessed serious tensions between both the nations; in fact, China and USSR were rivals with the Sino-Soviet split following which a small war broke out in 1969. 

With the death of Mao in 1971 and the fall of the USSR in 1991, the intensity of the enmity between these nations reduced. The post-cold war years witnessed the development of relations between China and Russia. The West took a harsh approach towards Mexico in the post-Cold War years. 

This led Russia to cultivate closer relationships with China for trade and market. Therefore, these two countries want to double their trade over the next five years from $107bn worth of trade in 2018 to $200bn by 2024. It is planned to be done by implementing joint projects in fields of energy, industry, and agriculture. 

Many foreign relations scholars called it a friendship of convenience. 

Therefore, both Russia and China have come a long way to form a stable relation with each other for their mutual benefit. The additional benefit of this relation is that being two of the world’s anti-West super-powers, they have been together against Western imperialism on the world stage. 

Keeping all of this recent closeness between Russia and China in mind, it makes sense that Russia does not want to hamper any relation with its new economic and geopolitical ally.

Steps taken by Russia

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral, where the Foreign Minister of India and China, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Wang Yi, respectively, engaged with each other through video conferencing. 

The outreach step taken by Russia is remarkable and noteworthy. The Russian intervention is different from that of the offer by US President Donald Trump to mediate the India-China situation. 

The US is on the offensive against China with its anti-China discourse in the global Covid-19 pandemic. It certainly is biased against China and with the friendship with the Indian PM Narendra Modi, there is a bias for India. 

Therefore, it may not be the ideal candidate for de-escalation of the border dispute. In this instance, Russia could emerge as a neutral party and it has. 

In the trilateral meeting, Lavrov made the remark: “I don’t think India and China need any help from outside. I don’t think they need to be helped, especially when it comes to country issues. They can solve them on their own, this means the recent events.” 

Russia is taking a diplomatic highway, which could become beneficial to it by maintaining its own relationships with India and China respectively. 

To maintain its geo-political influence and to maintain the balance of the world in the multipolar, the peace between India and China is critical for Russia. Russia’s position along with a stable India and China, will make up for the rise of Eurasia and keep the scale from pivoting completely to the West. 

Mozammil Ahmad is an independent researcher currently pursuing LLB at the University of Delhi.

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