Russia and India have been friends for nearly 70 years. Moscow and New Delhi have supported one another on the international diplomatic sphere; they signed lucrative military deals and deepened economic ties…
But Russia-Indian relations came crashing down in 2016. Why?
So why on Earth would Russia lose interest in its seemingly perfect, long-time ally? Why all of a sudden Russia has warmed up to Pakistan, its Cold War rival and the biggest historical enemy of India?
Global relations are the answer. While many may argue, Russia has been very smart about global relations in terms of strategical and long-term planning.
China is a traditional ally of Pakistan and always supports it in any international conflicts. China will never let anyone hurt its allies. Russia knows it.
And while Russia has been in normal relations with China for a while now, their relations significantly improved when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and the West started putting heavy sanctions on Moscow.
Russia was desperately looking for a powerful ally and it found it in China. But what does it have to do with India and Pakistan?
India must blame itself for Russia-Pakistan alliance
India and Russia were particularly close during the Cold War era, but it’s no secret that India’s Cold War generation doesn’t have much saying now. It’s far more trendy and more attractive for the new generation of Indians to look up to the United States.
In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2015, 70% of Indians said they view the U.S. favorably, while only 43% gave a positive light to Russia, who has been helping India both militarily and politically for the past nearly 70 years.
The same survey showed that only 8% of Indians view the U.S. negatively, while twice as many, 16%, said they were negative towards Russia.
Russia is losing its appeal in India even though Moscow continues to be the country’s key supplier of weapons. But since Russian President Vladimir Putin is the master of long-term planning in global relations, he knows where this is all going.
Russia made a choice in favor of Pakistan
So Putin had a choice: to continue bromancing with India and see their friendship inevitably fade by the year, or look for a new, more reliable ally.
And Russia chose Pakistan, which happens to be India’s biggest enemy and at the same time a close friend of China, whom Russia has been flirting with for the past few years. Bonus factor: China opposes the U.S. and its international views.
The indication that Russia views Pakistan as its core ally in South Asia was their joint military exercises Druzhba (Friendship), which Putin held just few weeks after the Uri terrorist incident in September.
In the Uri attack, 18 Indian soldiers were killed, and India put the blame on Pakistan. Islamabad denies the accusations.
Another indication that Russia has lost its interest in India came when at the recent BRICS Summit in Goa, Russia refused to support India in its claims that Pakistan allegedly sponsors terrorism.
Pakistan and Russia beef up military cooperation
Russia and Pakistan have held three major joint military drills since 2014: two naval drills (Arabian Monsoon 2014 and Arabian Monsoon 2015), and the recently concluded Druzhba 2016 drills. Moscow also announced it would hold additional drills with Islamabad in 2017.
On top of holding joint military drills with Pakistan, Russia has also been selling its top-of-the-art military equipment to its new South Asian ally. The two countries are reportedly holding talks on the purchase of Russia’s Su-35 warplanes.
Last year, Pakistan made headlines when it bought four Mi-35 helicopter gunships from Russia. Additionally, in the 12 months, Pakistani army officials have been visiting Russia on a regular basis, looking for new military deals.
And Russia couldn’t be more happy about it. Russian arms manufacturers are constantly expanding their international reach to sell their new military equipment to other countries.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is the world’s seventh-largest importer of defense equipment. Do the math now.
India desperately trying to hold Russia as its ally
But such developments in Russia-Pakistan relations create major problems for India. Indians are not happy neither about the military drills between the two nations, nor the fact that Pakistan is purchasing weapons from their top military equipment importer.
India’s ambassador to Russia, Pankaj Saran, said that Russia’s “military cooperation with Pakistan which is a State that sponsors and practices terrorism as a matter of State policy is a wrong approach and it will only create further problems.”
But Indian officials are very careful in their words about Pakistan-Russia friendship, as Moscow and New Delhi are currently negotiating the purchase of S-400, stealth frigates and even a second nuclear submarine from Russia.
In no way does India wants to lose Russia’s new weaponry creations. India is reportedly willing to pay a whopping $5 billion to get Russia’s revolutionary S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. The S-400 is one of the most advanced antimissile systems in the whole world.
More importantly, India is looking to lease Russia’s Akula II–class nuclear-powered attack submarine for $2 billion. Interestingly, India is already leasing another nuclear submarine from Russia, INS Chakra.
So if the negotiations are successful, India will have two deadly Russian nuclear submarines in its arsenal for the next two years.
Russia-China-Pakistan triangle: New superpower axis
By having both Russia and China as its allies, Pakistan wins a lot. Islamabad had been friends with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for years, but it now realized that neither Washington nor Riyadh really care about its interests.
Pakistan now sees that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been sending all those funds in order to prevent the country from becoming an intimidating force in South Asia and becoming financially independent.
Russia and China, meanwhile, are offering that independence as well as the prospect of becoming the most powerful country in the region (thus, signing military deals and holding military drills).
It also adds to the fact that both America and Saudi Arabia have played a huge role in spreading sectarianism and terrorism in Pakistan. So naturally Islamabad has doubts about their good intentions.
During the BRICS summit earlier this month, China protected Pakistan from India’s accusations. And by not standing up for India this time, Russia showed on whose side it’s on.