An Indo-Russian order in Asia?

An Indo-Russian order in Asia?

The idea of a greater role for Russia in Asia and an Indo-Russian order in Asia is presently proposed more often in articles in the Hindu and The Diplomat:

In the Hindu Zorawar Daulet Singh on September 05, 2019 writes in his contribution „Steaming back into the Indo-Pacific“:

„When mainstream American policymakers look at the big power triangle of the U.S.-China-Russia, their unconcealed prejudice and geostrategic preferences are apparent to all. The door is still very much open to China whom the West would like to wean away from Russia to arrest America’s deteriorating global position. New Delhi, of course, like in the 1960s, would prefer the opposite outcome: to wean Russia away from China or more realistically provide Russia with more options in its Asia pivot. Mr. Jaishankar’s remarks at the prestigious Valdai Club in Moscow made such a case for the next chapter in India-Russia ties. In essence, he asserted that Asia’s multipolar age has arrived; that the Indo-Pacific is not restricted to one conception: he distinguished India’s independent approach that includes stable ties with Beijing from the U.S. concept that some interpret as “Chinese containment on the cheap”; and most importantly, Russia being a Pacific power with interests in the Indian Ocean should join the debate.

In substance and without ruffling Beijing’s feathers, Russia is already shaping the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. It has managed the rare feat of deep cooperation with rival parties in the South China Sea disputes. As Alexander Korolev, a scholar at the University of New South Wales, notes, the “Russia-Vietnam partnership should not be underestimated, because it has been growing despite and independently of Russia-China relations”. Indeed, once Russia’s advanced military and naval modernisation assistance towards Indo-Pacific states such as India, Vietnam and Indonesia, along with Russia’s own underrated Pacific Fleet whose area of responsibility extends to the Persian Gulf is accounted for, Moscow is already a player in Eurasia’s Rimland areas.

Having been reassured that India is not bandwagoning with the U.S. and genuinely believes in open and inclusive security and order building ideas, Russia could now begin the process of imagining a role in the Indo-Pacific that brings its vast diplomatic experience and strategic heft into the open. „

Zorawar Daulet Singh is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and author of  Power and Diplomacy: India’s Foreign Policies During the Cold War Jaison writes on September 06, 2019 in The Diplomat article „Is Asia ready for an Indo-Russian Order?“

„Greater Indo-Russian cooperation should seem like a foregone conclusion. New Delhi and Moscow could benefit greatly from strategic alignment given the current geopolitical rivalry unfolding in the Asian theater between Beijing and Washington. While China has little reason to draw down its military presence in the Indo-Pacific, the United States continues to attempt to bring together like-minded countries to check China’s moves.

India, being an important stakeholder in the region, has obvious interests in seeing China pushed into a disadvantageous position. However, it has still not bought into the U.S. idea of containment, which retains features of the Cold War pushback against the former Soviet Union. Moreover, India has carefully broached the issue by avoiding overt anti-China posturing in the region. It has also shown no desire to toe the U.S line, which it deems as harming its “strategic autonomy.” Thus, for India, the Indo-Pacific strategy comprises largely of either cooperative or coercive engagement.

As far as Russia is concerned, the growing need to revive its Eurasian stakes has complicated the notion of strategic convergence with China whose Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) overlaps in the former’s traditional sphere of influence. Even in the context of the Indo-Pacific, Russia is playing its cards deftly as it re-examines its ties with various actors like ASEAN in the region. Given the current emphasis on building capacity in its Far East, Russia has its own vested interest in creating linkages between the Indian Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean. 

As India expresses keen interest in shoring up its energy supplies from Russia’s Far East, the broader contour of the development is the two countries’ strategic convergence on the region’s issues. In the Indo-Pacific, India and Russia have carved out a unique strategy to amplify their own machinations. While New Delhi has sought to break free from the U.S.-China geopolitical rivalry in the region, Moscow has come up with a compelling strategy in the form of the Eastern Economic Forum to build strategic relationships with Asian countries to limit its reliance on China. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, India might have reservations about the Taliban’s rise to prominence at the expense of the democratically elected government in Kabul but having Russia as a channel to influence the Taliban after a U.S. withdrawal could play to India’s favor.

On the China front, India is seeking to diversify its options beyond the U.S.-led initiative and encourage a multi-stakeholder approach. This works in Russia’s interests, as it should know better than to put all its eggs in the Chinese basket. Despite their growing bonhomie, Russia is better off considering expanding its ties with other Asian countries like India, Vietnam, and Indonesia than solely piggybacking on China in matters relating to the Far East, Central Asia, and Asia as a whole.

Such scenarios broaden the scope for a “third” order centered on Indo-Russian lines. The U.S.-led order encapsulated in the Indo-Pacific (the Quad), Afghanistan (a pending troop withdrawal and Taliban peace deal) and China strategy (the trade war) has resulted in multiple disruptions in the wide Asian region. Further, the China-led order has sustained in its own disruptive ways from the Indo-Pacific (South China Sea dispute) to Afghanistan (strategic leverage over Pakistan) to its U.S. strategy (again, through the trade war). 

The third order, unlike the American and Chinese versions, is neither inspired by antagonism toward any particular country nor achieved through the violation of international law or trade practices. Moreover, the third order is reflective of the geopolitical realities in the region, based on a multi-polar, rules-based, mutually beneficial framework. Given the enduring shadow of the Sino-U.S. rivalry, India, and Russia have their task cut out in framing this third narrative. However, the continuing relevance of such an order would be tested against the strategic necessity of the Indo-Russian cooperation. If the strengths of the partnership are carried forward in the times to come, it would not only elevate their bilateral ties to a new level, but offer a refreshingly fresh perspective on how issues in the region are addressed. „

Carl Jaison is currently a research associate at the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi.

Russia and India have a common interest that they are not drawn in a sinoamerican war and they also both perceive the New Silkroad/OBOR/BRI as a danger for the own spheres of influence in Asia. An article in Russia in Global Affairs also describes the deep desillusion of the former enthusiasm of the Russian elites for BRI.However the author of the article about a possible Indo-Russian order in Asia doesn’t mention two counteracting factors: The expansion of China in the Indian Ocean and the difficulties to transport oil and gas from Russia to India.As both nations want to diversify their trade beyond weapon sales,pipelines to India can only been built through Central Asia,Afghanistan and China.Here the old TAPI project would be a precondition ,but this seems unlikely in the face of deterroating Indo-Pakistan relations with Russia on side of India in the Kashmir question and China on the side of Pakistan.Therefore the transport had to be organized by ship.On the other side Russia is not an interesting big market for India as China is.
Another question is if Russia has real leverage in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan and in the SCO. And if the Russian navy and military could replace the USA in the Indian Ocean or the Indo-Pacific as an alternative for India for the USA is also questionable.

A German diplomat thinks that the Indo-Russian relations are likely to have a stable perspective in the future, but that this is not suffiicent to create or even establish a new order in Asia. This is more wishful thinking and desire than the reality of the future.

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