Russia has benefited from its ties with both China and India. Yet the longer the Russian-Ukraine War (and the accompanying Western economic sanctions) lasts, the more Russia will become dependent on them. Surely, Russia would rather not forego either one. In fact, Moscow would like Beijing and New Delhi to become friends. But the deep mistrust that divides China and India makes that unlikely. And, if an open conflict was to break out between the two countries, both sides would likely appeal to Russia for support. Hence, both would be wise to consider what Russia might do in that situation.
Explained: Why Prolonged Ukraine War Will Be Litmus Test of Indo-Russian Friendship?
Chandigarh (ABC Live): The conflict between Russia and
Ukraine has altered Europe's geopolitics as well as the dynamics of Asia.
Russia is increasingly reliant on China and India to not
only purchase its exports but also to bolster its finances as a result of
Moscow's failure to quickly achieve a military victory over Ukraine.
China's dual-use technologies are also needed by Russia
to support its defense industry.
How China and India develop their bilateral ties with
Russia over the course of the war is crucial not only for Moscow's war effort
but also for China-India relations in Asia.
China and India have contributed to lessening the impact
of Western economic sanctions against Russia by refraining from criticizing
Russia's invasion. However, if Moscow were forced to choose between the two
countries, it might ultimately be influenced by the divergent perspectives on
what it stands to gain from them.
Given the tensions that exist between China and India,
being placed in that position is not a theoretical idea either. Relations
between China and India have become increasingly hostile and deadly over the
past few years. Pressures could disintegrate further over their boundary
debates. Should Russia favour one over the other, either explicitly or
implicitly, this could alter the power balance between Asia's two continental
giants and increase tensions in the region.
The ABC Research Team working on India-China relations
refers an article authored by Felix K. Chang published
by Philadelphia based Foreign Policy Research Institute for our readers
enabling them to understand how India’s geopolitical interest is directly involves:
The article says as under:
Cold War Thinking (Continued)
Such thinking still goes into Chinese
and Indian strategic calculations, but within a new context. China’s economic
growth and Belt and Road Initiative have given it new political clout in South
Asia. And, after three decades of ever-higher defense expenditures, China can
now boast a world-class military with three aircraft carriers, several
nuclear-powered attack submarines, scores of fifth-generation combat aircraft,
and hundreds of advanced ballistic missiles. Plus, China has built an extensive
network of highways, railways, and airports to allow it to rapidly deploy its
forces to its Himalayan border. At the same time, China has grown increasingly
suspicious of India’s budding relations with the United States, especially
after the 2008 US-India civil-nuclear deal, and India’s link with the Dalai
Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.
On the other side of the
Himalayan Mountains, India has been all too aware of China’s strategic
advances. As early as 2010, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that “China would
like to have a foothold in South Asia.” Such concerns grew more acute with
time. By 2023, the Indian army’s chief of staff would openly
observe that “China is increasingly displaying the willingness to project its
military power … in our immediate neighborhood.” Unfortunately for India, it
has struggled to keep pace with its northern neighbor. India’s economic growth
has been less consistent than China’s. And, partly as a result, New Delhi has
been slower to modernize its military. India has also taken far longer to build
the logistics infrastructure that would enable it to rapidly move its forces to
its border with China. Indeed, compensating for that shortcoming was one reason
for the Indian army’s decision to raise and base the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps in nearby West
The strategic calculations of
both sides are not academic exercises. Border skirmishes between China and
India have risen in number and intensity over the last two decades, including a 2020 clash that resulted in hundreds of
casualties and another incident in 2022. While neither side may be
seeking an open conflict, the possibility of one is real. Chinese leaders, who
have long regarded India with some disdain, have intimated punitive action against it if it did not “correct [what China sees as] its mistakes.”
Meanwhile, Indian leaders (not to mention the Indian people) are loathe to
again endure the sort of humiliation their country suffered during the
Sino-Indian War of 1962.
Rival Relations with Russia
It is against that backdrop that
China and India have navigated their relations with Russia after its 2022
invasion of Ukraine. On the surface, China and India seemed to have pursued
similar policies towards Russia and the West. Both have refrained from
condemning Russia, continued to trade with it, and distanced themselves from
the West’s robust response. But China went a step further. It allowed its
state-owned companies to sell Russia dual-use technology, including
semiconductors that could be used in military hardware. Indeed, China doubled
its exports of semiconductors to Russia during 2022.
That no doubt was appreciated in Moscow.
India has taken a somewhat
different tack toward Russia. It sharply boosted its purchases of Russian
commodities, from fertilizer to steel. Most notably, India went from being a
negligible importer of Russian oil in 2021 to being the biggest in 2022.
India’s buying spree did not go unnoticed in Moscow (or the West). In fact, Indian
leaders bristled at Western criticism of it. As India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated: “I would put
my country’s national interests first and I would put my energy security first
… Why should I not buy [Russian oil]?” While doing so irked the United States,
Indian leaders probably judged that Washington would look past India’s imports,
considering America’s need for Indian participation in the Quadrilateral
Both China and India have pursued
their relations with Russia in ways that serve their broader national
interests. Ultimately, China wants to prevent Ukraine (and by extension the
West) from decisively defeating Russia, in large part because Beijing would
like an ally that is sufficiently strong to be helpful in its own competition
against the United States. Meanwhile, India would like a Russia that is strong enough to act
independently of China and can help prevent it from becoming Asia’s dominant
Through a Glass Darkly
Russia has benefited from its
ties with both China and India. Yet the longer the Russian-Ukraine War (and the
accompanying Western economic sanctions) lasts, the more Russia will become
dependent on them. Surely, Russia would rather not forego either one. In fact,
Moscow would like Beijing and New Delhi to become friends.
But the deep mistrust that divides China and India makes that unlikely. And, if
an open conflict was to break out between the two countries, both sides would
likely appeal to Russia for support. Hence, both would be wise to consider what
Russia might do in that situation.
At this writing, it seems like a
reasonable bet that Russia would tilt towards China, unless New Delhi can top
the benefits that Beijing brings to the table with Moscow. China not only is
more tightly connected to Russia, literally by pipelines and railways, but also
possesses economic and technological strengths that India lacks. Plus, there is
little doubt that China and Russia share a common adversary, the United States,
making Beijing a more reliable partner.
Such a Russian tilt would clearly
be bad for India, were it to get into a war with China. Beijing would likely
prevail on Moscow to limit its engagement with New Delhi. At a minimum, India
would be unable to count on Russia to pin down large numbers of Chinese
divisions, and would probably find itself facing the full force of China’s
military. Even a nominally neutral Russia would be detrimental to India. For
example, were Russia to embargo arms and spare parts to both sides, such an
action would penalize India far more than it would China.
Moreover, even without a war,
China’s closer bilateral relations with Russia could encourage Beijing to
pursue its interests more forcefully in South Asia, whether on its disputed
Himalayan border or with India’s surrounding neighbors. That too could shift
the power balance between China and India and lead to greater regional
tensions. While India has sought to deal with such a possibility through warmer
relations with Australia, Japan, and the United States, among others, New Delhi’s
embrace of the West has been very slow, likely the product of India’s
traditional mistrust of it. But given how close the Russian-Ukrainian War has
brought China and Russia, New Delhi might want to pick up the pace.
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