The truth about India-Russia: We cannot abandon Moscow

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand recently caught the attention of major international media. He has also been quoted by some world leaders and diplomats, including French President Macron at the UNGA, seizing the opportunity to target Putin using Modi’s words.

Lines that made headlines, “Today is not an era of war, and I told you about that on the call. Today we will have the opportunity to talk about how we can move forward on the path to peace,” were among the first minutes of conversation recorded by a Russian cameraman. The clip was later promoted by the Indian side.

The South Asia bureau chief of a major international publication told me that blinded by their desire to show Putin as isolated, its editors were in no mood to consider the argument that followed those opening lines. . “We have to find ways to solve the problems of food, energy security and fertilizer,” Modi said, without even once referring to the crucial issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is for this reason that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Modi during their telephone conversation on Tuesday that “Ukraine will not conduct any negotiations with the current President of the Russian Federation”.

Even though Zelenskyy stressed the importance of Modi’s statement that now is not the time for war, the two leaders discussed the issue of global food security. Zelenskyy said “the support of the entire international community, especially India, for the continued implementation of the grain initiative is important.” The Black Sea Grain Initiative enables Russian and Ukrainian food grains and fertilizers to reach global markets and alleviate shortages. In the United States, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar revealed last week that India had been asked to intervene with Russia during talks over grain shipments under the Sea Initiative Black.

This is the essence of India’s current position on Russia and Ukraine. This puts Modi under pressure at home, with rising food, fertilizer and fuel prices in an already weak economy, which is further battered by a strong dollar and falling demand in the United States. Faced with a general election in 2024, the promised achhe din from 2014 is not even on the horizon for most Indians unless you are a fanatical Hindutva fanatic or a chosen businessman .

This immediate political demand makes India impervious to Western rhetoric of “shared values”, especially when it sees Western leaders also acting in their own interests. The United States has just decided to reduce its sanctions against Venezuela to allow President Chevron to start pumping crude oil and lower world prices, three years after forcing India to stop importing crude from the Venezuela under threat of sanctions.

The same threat could now force India to stop importing heavily reduced crude oil from Russia, but there are other reasons for Modi’s friendly approach to Putin. Chief among them is India’s military dependence on Russian supplies. Nearly two thirds of the weapon systems and platforms currently in service are of Russian or Soviet origin. This includes India’s main battle tank, the main fighter aircraft in its fleet and the only operational aircraft carrier. Alternative suppliers of spare parts and ammunition are often not available, and it is not possible to replace these platforms with Western platforms.

Western weapons systems are exorbitantly expensive compared to Russian systems, and come with conditions of use. Moscow does not impose any limits on the use of its systems, whether against China or Pakistan, or on any advanced functionality because no “fundamental pact” has been signed. There is also no end-user oversight and Moscow has been liberal with technology transfer, unlike Western countries. Putin even signed the S-400 deal with India in rupees, removing the threat of US CAATSA sanctions. On military equipment, Russia offers an agreement that India cannot refuse.

Geopolitically, maintaining close ties with Russia is consistent with India’s post-independence pursuit of “strategic autonomy.” Despite very close ties with Paris in recent years, the fact that Moscow still holds veto power in the UN Security Council is not something New Delhi can ignore. Avoiding Russia and pushing it completely into the corner of China would also be folly. India is also aware that despite the West’s strident campaign, many developing countries in Asia and Africa support Russia; New Delhi is not hiring a global pariah in Moscow.

In this line of argument, there is a fear that India will talk about its “realistic” political game on Russia more than its power allows. Small powers insist on values ​​and norms in global affairs because it is their best protection against a larger power. India is a big country, but a relatively smaller power than China. What does this realistic line look like in light of Chinese actions in Ladakh or its designs in Arunachal Pradesh? As much as hard power strengthens an argument, reasoned ideas also have power in international relations.

It was this power of an idea that manifested itself in October 2013, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow. Putin surprised him by giving him a Mughal-era coin and an artwork with a picture of the Tsarevich, later Nicholas II (the last emperor of Russia), and the Maharajas of Benares, and a map of India showing the 30 cities he visited. in 1891. Another gift was a 16th century map of India. Putin said the gifts show that relations between the two countries go well beyond 1947. This may be an exaggeration, but it reflects the essential truth of India’s strong ties with Russia.

(From defusing IEDs in Kashmir to teaching at Yale, the ex-serviceman made all of life’s reckless choices, including journalism, madness and business)

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