India is worried that its nearly 70-year friendship with Russia is about to end. Russia is warming up to India’s biggest historical enemy, Pakistan, which inevitably has led to tensions between New Delhi and Moscow. So even though India and Russia were very close for nearly seven decades, Russia-Indian relations have come crashing down over the last two years.
Geopolitics is the reason the relationship between the two countries is deteriorating. Moscow and New Delhi have backed one another on the international diplomatic sphere for decades. But when Russia refused to support India’s bid to turn Pakistan into a pariah state this year, Moscow took a major step away from its friendship with New Delhi.
Russia and India may have signed large-scale military deals over the past seven decades, but when Moscow held its first-ever joint military drills this year with Pakistan – India’s biggest adversary – it was a sign that Russia is trying to send a message.
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India remains mute about Russia-Pakistan friendship
Last week, Moscow and Islamabad held their first-ever foreign office consultations, leaving India understandably worried that Russia is further deepening its ties to Pakistan. During those consultations in Islamabad, Russian and Pakistani officials discussed a wide variety of regional issues and pointed out some areas of mutual interest, including economic cooperation.
According to the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistani and Russian officials “exchanged views on important global and regional developments.” The ministry added in the statement that “it was also decided that the next round of consultations will be convened in Moscow in 2017.”
Just last year, nobody in their right mind would believe that Russia could make friends with its Cold War rival Pakistan. But by selling four Mi-35M helicopters to Pakistan in 2015, Russia mutely announced huge changes in its geopolitical strategies. Then in October 2015, Russia and Pakistan held their first-ever joint military exercises labeled “Druzhba” (friendship), which sent India into frenzy. However, India remained mute about the drills for the most part because it still has a number of pending military deals with Russia it doesn’t want to lose over its resentment.
Russia has big plans for the CPEC
When Russia rejected India’s efforts in November to isolate Pakistan politically, tensions between Moscow and New Delhi reached their peak. While concerns are rising within the Indian government, Russia continues to warm up to Pakistan and has recently shown interest in Pakistan’s joint project with China, the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Earlier this month, Alexey Dedov, the Russian Ambassador to Pakistan, declared Russia’s strong support for the upcoming lucrative project. He also announced that Russia wants to link the Eurasian Economic Union project with the CPEC, a move that would further deteriorate relations between Moscow and New Delhi.
The CPEC is a sensitive issue for India because the project passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region in Kashmir. By backing the project, Russia automatically declares its support for Pakistan’s position in the long-standing Kashmir issue, a major development in Russian-Indian relations that could end their seven-decade friendship once and for all.
Why is Russia losing appeal in India?
Russia has a number of reasons to show its teeth to India and threaten New Delhi to end their lucrative friendship. The two main reasons are China and the United States. Russia views China as its most prosperous ally. China, meanwhile, is a traditional ally of Pakistan and therefore an adversary of India. Warming up to Islamabad is a smart move to get closer to China, but that move comes at a price: abandoning its decades-long friendship with India.
As for the United States, siding with Pakistan and China and abandoning its ties with India goes perfectly in line with Russia’s efforts to bring down America’s global dominance. In fact, India must blame itself for losing a close and reliable friend in Russia. As the Cold War-era generation doesn’t hold much sway in India now, it’s far trendier for the newer generation to look up to America.
A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2015 revealed that a whopping 70% of Indians view the U.S. in a positive light, while only 43% view Russia favorably. The same survey showed that while only 8% of Indians are negative towards America, twice as many – 16% – view Russia negatively. Moscow cannot but lose appeal in a country that has been gravitating towards Russia’s biggest competitor in the world.
Russia makes its choice in favor of Pakistan
Even though Russia remains India’s key weapons supplier, there are noticeable tensions in relations between the two nations. And the closer Russia gets to Pakistan, the fewer chances there will be to repair Indian-Russian relations.
However, Russia doesn’t seem to understand all the criticism coming from India. Earlier this month, Zamir Kabulov, the Russian President’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, reminded India that Moscow hasn’t made any complaints about New Delhi’s growing cooperation with Washington on matters of defense.
But many Indian officials responded to Kabulov by saying that Russia’s cooperation with Pakistan is a far cry from India’s cooperation with the U.S. That’s because Indian officials believe New Delhi’s cooperation with Washington doesn’t threaten Russia, as the U.S. is miles away, but Russia’s cooperation with Pakistan directly threatens India’s safety.
Although India hasn’t publicly complained much about Russia strengthening ties with Pakistan, it doesn’t make sense why New Delhi acts surprised suddenly. India’s unexpected turn toward the U.S. wasn’t met with much excitement in Moscow, which is why Russia’s efforts to find a new ally in the region shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Russia had a tough choice: to continue being friends with New Delhi and see their friendship gradually fade by the year, or look for a more reliably ally in the region. And Russia seems to have made a choice in favor of Pakistan, no matter how painful it may sound for India.
Moscow-New Delhi-Islamabad triangle
Still, New Delhi remains rather silent about the noticeable tensions with Moscow. However, it is still trying to convince Moscow that Pakistan is the foundation of terrorism in the region. Tensions between Russia and India are getting even worse now that Moscow declared that it views the Afghan Taliban as a national military-political movement in Afghanistan. Russia is interested in engaging the Taliban in an attempt to defeat ISIS in the region.
Russia continues to make it look as if its growing cooperation with Pakistan doesn’t threaten its close relations with India. But it’s still unclear how the triangle between Moscow, Islamabad and New Delhi could work, as the biggest enemies in South Asia have conflicting opinions about a number of regional issues.
Could Russia – standing between New Delhi and Islamabad and having an equally big influence on the two of them – help resolve some of the most pressing issues in the region, including terrorism and the Kashmir issue?