Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is on a visit to Russia. There are many headlines emerging around this event. Media reports indicate that the Defence Minister is likely to have meeting with the Chinese counterpart on the side-lines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) ministerial, after China sought a meeting earlier. It is also reported that Russia has agreed not to supply arms to Pakistan. While all these are being reported from Moscow, the eleventh edition of Indo-Russia (INDRA) joint naval exercise is undertaken in the Bay of Bengal.
Relationship with Russia Amidst Tensions with China
Russia’s traditional bond with India and its recent heightened engagements with China often make analysts to wonder whose side Russia is exactly on. Since every nation plays according to their needs and interests, it is perhaps futile to search for answers to whom Russia likes more between India and China.
But to touch upon briefly on why Russia has over the years heightened its engagement with China, the answer is not difficult to find. When the Western world led by the US placed many sanctions and restrictions on Russia for geopolitical reasons, it was left with no choice but to find alternative markets and trade partners. China filled the vacuum swiftly, taking steps necessary for the sustenance of Russia’s economy. For example, back in 2013 itself China had signed unprecedented USD 270 billion oil deal with Russia.
However, one must not forget that Russia in its Soviet avatar had fought a war with China. At present, China is expanding its sphere of influence in countries that were once part of Soviet Union, an aspect that arguably makes Russia to search for balance.
This is where India through its recent efforts offers Russia a balancing act.
Key Element of Balance: Vladivostok -Chennai Vision
Till now, the relationship between India and Russia was mainly concentrated on defence cooperation. In September 2019, a new flavour was added with the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia’s Far East Regions and inking many trade pacts at Vladivostok.
Russia’s Far East is resource rich and scarcely populated. India and Indian companies are exploring business opportunities in areas like minerals, timber, and diamond cutting etc. The proposal that stirred the imagination and mammoth possibilities is the Vladivostok – Chennai maritime corridor.
Speaking about Vladivostok, it should be noted that some Chinese officials stoked controversy by claiming that Vladivostok belongs to China and Russia is wrong in observing the founding day of the place.
This explains why Russia is searching for balance with China even though they are on friendly terms right now. With trade and maritime cooperation that goes beyond the traditional defence bond which also connects Russia’s Far East region, India is arguably the best bet for Russia.