Does the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy affect Russia’s “very strong” partnership with India? Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov described New Delhi as a “very special, very privileged, and very strong partner” across all sectors during his annual press meet.
At the same time, Russia’s concern over India’s involvement in the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy cannot be ignored.
Lavrov mentioned that he is in talks with India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar for an “inclusive Indo-Pacific region”. He said: “India is aware of the powers who are against inclusive Indo-Pacific region. These powers are trying to create divisions in the Indo-Pacific region”.
He stated that ASEAN countries feel the same as they lose centrality in the region. Lavrov recalled his last month’s statement when he had said that India was being used by the West for its anti-China games.
On December 9, Lavrov had said: “Poles’ like Russia and China are unlikely to be subordinate to it. However, India is currently an object of the Western countries’ persistent, aggressive and devious policy as they are trying to engage it in anti-China games by promoting Indo-Pacific strategies, the so-called ‘Quad’.”
However, India had dismissed the statement saying it doesn’t see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy.
The statement was seen as a spoiler of the India-Russia bilateral ties. Prior to this, the annual summit between the two countries was canceled, and the reason was cited as the Covid-19 pandemic. The meeting was canceled for the first time in two decades. India will host the annual summit this year.
Sanjay Kumar Pandey, a professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian & East European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, told The EurAsian Times that it is a known fact that Russia has been long concerned about the growing proximity between India and the US, especially on the Indo-Pacific front.
“Russia calls the region as Asia-Pacific and doesn’t subscribe to the US’ terminology. It believes that by going along with the US on this strategy, and by taking part in QUAD activities India in many ways is distancing itself from its old partner Russia and several trilateral, multi-lateral, quadrilateral framework, in which India, Russia, and China are together,” Pandey says.
#Lavrov: We don’t want any misunderstanding with our friends, the Indian people. We are friends with #India, and we are doing outmost to make sure that India and China, our two great friends and brothers, live in peace with one another ➡️ https://t.co/AhnPiE39Jg@MEAIndia pic.twitter.com/IQ5ssUUP1Q
— Russia in India (@RusEmbIndia) January 18, 2021
While Lavrov did not skip mentioning the concerns around Indo-Pacific, his larger statement this time was making up for his previous remark accusing the US of undermining Russia’s relations with India. He wanted to dispel any misgiving about these ties this time.
Emphasizing upon that India-Russia ties have grown from strength to strength, Lavrov stated that from the strategic partnership, the two sides became “privileged strategic partners” and then “special privileged partners” since PM Narendra Modi came to power.
Russia’s Stand on China
In view of the border stand-off between India and China, experts believe Russia has used back-channel diplomacy in diffusing tensions between the two nations. In September 2020, Russia had got the Indian and Chinese ministers together during a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ meet.
Even though Russia and China share close ties, Moscow has refrained from directly commenting on the border stand-off between Indian and Chinese militaries in Ladakh.
Lavrov said they are doing their utmost so that peace and tranquillity are established between India and China. “RIC (Russia-India-China) format has contributed to peace and stability and the last meeting of the foreign ministers had political dialogue and RIC dialogue is continuing at various levels,” he said.
Professor Pandey is of the view that in the longer run, Russia understands that India is too important to be left due to the US concerns.
“Vis-à-vis China, policymakers in Russia believe that in long term, China will be a challenge for Russia. That’s why they want to maintain a balance and remain engaged with India. This is a typical balancing act of Russia. It doesn’t want to let go of its old ally,” he maintains.