The India-Russia ties span a period of nearly seven and a half decades. That’s a lot of time! A hell lot, actually! Israel came into existence in a period of time that’s smaller than that bonding India and Russia’s closeness, the Jewish state becoming an independent identity in 1948.
There’s also a great deal of commonality between India and Russia. There’s a shared love for culinary culture, a fondness, and passion for cinema and literature. The two countries, culturally distinct that they may be, have enjoyed a strong penchant for invention in the sphere of science and space. If you think of the great Kalam, on the one hand, you cannot ignore names like Mikhail Gurevich, Gleb Kotelnikov, Nicolas Florine on the other; creators of the MiG aircraft, knapsack parachute, and tandem rotor helicopter, respectively.
Apart from all of this- there’s an immensity of co-operation between the two nation-states in the sphere of Defence- an area of principal importance to the safety, maintenance of sovereignty of a country, regardless of size, geography, per capita income.
Russia is bolstered by a culture of production of high-octane defense armaments and India needs them. India is an essential market for the communist country that constantly dabbles with a climate of the furor surrounding a somewhat iron-fisted rule of the popular leader, Vladimir Putin.
Make in India might be an ambitious project attaining new heights under the tutelage of Shri Narendra Modi, but one cannot simply ignore the constantness of Russian defense imports to India, that stands as the second-highest, following the United States and preceding Israel. In fact, from the period starting 2012 to 2016, India’s defense imports were much larger than that of China’s.
Today, if one were to make Russia go astray from supplying India weaponry needed for air and surface warfare, one can liken the equation to removing the first and second floor from a tall skyscraper and boasting about the high tensile strength of the building. It’s going to collapse, surely.
Fundamentally speaking, defense co-operation isn’t that isolated- so to speak- from that of intelligence warfare. Back in the golden days of the establishment of R&AW (India’s premier External Intelligence Gathering Agency), founded with a lot of passion and persistence of the great Kao, KGB (erstwhile Russian foreign spy agency) extended a supporting role in shaping the intelligence agency that was coming of age, supporting it quite like stalwarts such as the American CIA and Israeli Mossad did.
Currently, Indian Prime Minister Modi is welcoming the powerful somewhat autocratic leader Vladimir Putin of Russia, in New Delhi. This is an important meet.
History buffs would see this as an intense visitation of someone holding an esteemed office in the land of Rabindranath Tagore welcoming an elite from the Leo Tolstoy-land. If you are an admirer of the defense establishments, you’d find a state premier from the land of Agni Missile welcoming a state head from a land where the Mig was birthed. Science freaks would consider this to be a visit of Pyotr Groshin, the inventor of the anti-ballistic missile to the land of the great Aryabhatta.
What’s occupying curious eyebrows from all corners of state, bureaucratic, political, economic cauldrons is the news that a mega defense deal worth $5 billion is going to be signed between two countries that have been in constant diplomatic terms and cordial relationship since 1935.
This is no lame watershed moment. It’s a continuance of a tie forged in a climate marked by ever-changing vagaries where often tense geopolitical undercurrents dictate terms quite like a hyper-funded startup does in the American Silicon Valley.
At a time where the import and export of arms is about of the same significance as the need of two square meals a day for a working-class family in a developing country, where terrorism is wearing new, scarier veils to harass civilian peace, strong Indo Russian ties are not a paradigm shift; they are indicative of a strong undercurrent that remains at the center of constant economic relationship between two countries: defense and defense-preparedness.
In an atmosphere besieged by uncertainties from the land of the Dragon; a perennial angst-causer to a sedate, mild-mannered neighbour India, where what China does to Tibet could well be it’s way forward for ‘dealing’ with India- God alone knows if that’s true- a strong defense apparatus for the world’s largest democracy is pivotal. It’s the basic tenet without which the land to which one of the world’s largest army belongs cannot function with confidence and vigor.
Therefore, that India is purchasing S-400 Air Defense System is going to cement India’s position as a holder of superior air defense infrastructure, a critical mass to maintain aerial superiority in these tumultuous times, where about a quarter of a year ago, there seemed a realistic threat of North Korea and the United States going nuclear against each other, even as to purists and economic historians, it seemed petulant child’s play.
But while that’s the view from the funnel of defense, what does Putin’s two-day India visit embody from the diplomatic lens?
Surely, the ever-cringing Donald Trump would turn red in frustration seeing the close proximity and direct dialogue that India enjoys with Putin’s Russia. This, fundamentally, offsets and disbalances the diplomatic dialogue between India and the US, because of the latter’s decision to impose strong sanctions against Russia.
To this day, why the US and Russia cannot behave like mature elephants in the jungle- a phrase borne out of their direct economic size- instead of being hyenas looking to gnaw one another is less of a mystery and more indicative of the constant power struggle between two nations that are fast becoming dictatorial powers.
America has put into place a policy known as- Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act- that now seems to have poured cold blood or is more likely to over India’s continued co-operation with Russia. Funnily enough, the sanctions of CATSA are for the likes of North Korea, Iran, and Russia. Interstingly, India has economic co-operation with both Iran- its oldest trading partner- and of course, Russia.
Will the US-Trump overhang cause distress to India, entertaining Putin, rather reliant on his defense supplies? Only those can predict the changing turnstiles of international diplomacy who are enlightened- what are us mortals to do?