Why Modi is go­ing to Sochi

Mail Today - - COMMENT - By Harsh V Pant

AF­TER his in­for­mal sum­mit with the Chinese Pres­i­dent last week, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi will be head­ing to Sochi for an in­for­mal sum­mitry with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Grow­ing global chal­lenges are forc­ing In­dia to co­or­di­nate its poli­cies with Rus­sia and China more closely. Even in the past, the three na­tions have tried to ground their bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in the wider re­al­i­ties of chang­ing global bal­ance of power. Now with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion upend­ing the rules of global gover­nance, there is re­newed con­cern in the three cap­i­tals that their foreign poli­cies need greater co­or­di­na­tion, if only to pre­serve their eq­ui­ties in the global or­der.

Rus­sia’s tilt

In­dia, of course, has a long stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia but that is un­der­go­ing a shift in light of rapidly evolv­ing geopo­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties. While the top lead­er­ships of the two na­tions have con­tin­ued to en­gage with each other, di­ver­gences have been crop­ping up with dis­turb­ing reg­u­lar­ity. For In­dia, what should be con­cern­ing is Rus­sia’s in­creas­ing tilt to­wards Pak­istan as it seeks to curry favour with China. Moscow had his­tor­i­cally sup­ported New Delhi at the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil by re­peat­edly ve­to­ing res­o­lu­tions on the Kash­mir is­sue. To­day, how­ever, there is a change in how Moscow views its re­gional pri­or­i­ties in South Asia.

In a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment, the joint dec­la­ra­tion is­sued at the end of the first-ever six-na­tion Speaker’s Con­fer­ence in Is­lam­abad held in De­cem­ber 2017 sup­ported Pak­istani line on Kash­mir. This dec­la­ra­tion signed by Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pak­istan, Rus­sia and Turkey un­der­scored that “for en­sur­ing global and re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity, the is­sue of Jammu and Kash­mir needs peace­ful res­o­lu­tion by Pak­istan and In­dia in ac­cor­dance with UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions.” Pak­istan’s Kash­mir fix­a­tion meant that it forced other in­ter­locu­tors to bring the Kash­mir is­sue to the dec­la­ra­tion.

Dur­ing his visit to New Delhi in De­cem­ber, Rus­sian Foreign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov pub­licly called on In­dia to join China’s Belt and Road ini­tia­tive and hoped that New Delhi will find a way out to ben­e­fit from the mega con­nec­tiv­ity project with­out sac­ri­fic­ing its po­si­tion on the issues flagged by it. Re­fer­ring to In­dia’s op­po­si­tion to the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor on the grounds of sovereignty, he un­der­lined that “the spe­cific prob­lem in this re­gard should not make ev­ery­thing else con­di­tional for re­solv­ing po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences.” Lavrov also made his dis­plea­sure clear over New Delhi’s warm­ing up to the idea of a quadri­lat­eral en­gage­ment in­volv­ing the US, In­dia, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia in the Indo-Pa­cific. He sug­gested “that sus­tain­able se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion can­not be achieved through bloc ar­range­ment.”

Global pol­i­tics

De­spite the best efforts of the top lead­er­ships in In­dia and Rus­sia, di­ver­gences are grow­ing in this bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship as the un­der­ly­ing struc­tural changes in the in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment are pulling the two na­tions apart.

For Rus­sia, the US-led West presents its big­gest chal­lenge and its foreign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties in­creas­ingly re­volve around push­ing back against the West at ev­ery level. From the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to the western Euro­pean pe­riph­ery, this is what Rus­sia is do­ing. The West views Rus­sia as one of the most dis­rup­tive forces in global pol­i­tics, even more so than China in many ways. The ini­tial op­ti­mism of a US-Rus­sia rap­proche­ment post Don­ald Trump has died down now with do­mes­tic pol­i­tics in the US be­com­ing ever so con­tentious. Bri­tain and Rus­sia are en­tan­gled in a dis­pute per­tain­ing to an at­tack on a for­mer Rus­sian spy and his daugh­ter on the UK soil. And the West has united be­hind the UK in re­spond­ing against Rus­sia. Cold War type rhetoric against Rus­sia is gain­ing trac­tion in Western Europe.

Se­cu­rity de­mands

For In­dia, the prism is dif­fer­ent as it has to man­age the neg­a­tive ex­ter­nal­i­ties emerg­ing from the rise of China in its vicin­ity. Chinese power is now in­trud­ing into In­dia’s tra­di­tional sphere of in­flu­ence in South Asia and the In­dian Ocean re­gion. The grow­ing power dis­par­ity be­tween In­dia and China is mak­ing the border sit­u­a­tion more un­sta­ble. China-Pak­istan nexus is prov­ing dif­fi­cult to con­tain as In­dia gets ready to face a two-front chal­lenge. China re­fuses to recog­nise In­dian global power as­pi­ra­tions and has not yielded on key In­dian se­cu­rity de­mands. As a re­sult, while Rus­sia may find co­op­er­a­tion with China as a per­fectly le­git­i­mate re­sponse to its prob­lems with the West, In­dia does not have that lux­ury. New Delhi has to there­fore find like-minded coun­tries to build al­ter­na­tive plat­forms and nar­ra­tives so as to pre­clude Chinese hege­mony in the wider Indo Pa­cific. In­dia, of course, con­tin­ues to en­gage China too as was ev­i­dent dur­ing Modi’s visit to Wuhan.

As In­dia re­sets its en­gage­ment with China and as Rus­sia ad­justs to its grow­ing iso­la­tion in the western world, time has come for re­newed Indo-Rus­sian en­gage­ment. For a re­la­tion­ship that largely re­lies on defence and where the eco­nomic un­der­pin­nings are lag­ging, the need of the hour should be to have can­did con­ver­sa­tions about the cur­rent state of play in the re­la­tion­ship. Just re­ly­ing on sen­ti­men­tal­ism of the past won’t work any­more as new chal­lenges con­front In­dia and Rus­sia and the global geostrate­gic en­vi­ron­ment un­der­goes a pro­found re­order­ing.

The writer is pro­fes­sor, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, King’s Col­lege Lon­don. The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

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