By Haider Abbas
As the new year unfolds, it is time to reflect from the Indian perspective as to how the Russia-China bonhomie, which is on the upscale, is to be a permanent ‘worry’ for India in the coming days.. When the Russia-Ukraine war broke in February 2022, the worst fears which New Delhi had, was the coming-close of these two giant nations, and now after about ten months, the fears have been confirmed! What merits the attention is that the war had broken-out after the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 had just-finished and Russia and China had resolved the fight each-others wars. China, in fact had sniggered at India when it had made Qi Fabao, the Chinese Regimental Commander involved in the Galwan Valley clash ( June 2020) to be its torch bearer. India had boycotted the event.
The understandable corollary of this unity is now telling. The proverbial second-in-command, Russia’s former President and Deputy Chairman of Russia Security Council Dmitry Medvedev ‘surprise visit’ to Beijing , as a part of quid pro quo of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visit to Washington, is the hotspot, as both Medvedev and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed “no limits” strategic partnership, bilateral co-operation on economy, industrial production and of course Ukraine.
There is no denying that Russia has been slapped with a barrage of sanctions by US and the West, which forced Russia to ‘spin its axle’ towards China. This made Russia to seek closer economic, political and security ties with China, to thwart its isolation from the West, which resulted, in Russia to staunchly gravitate towards China as its anti-Western coalition ally. India has yet maintained a razor like balance and has not condemned Russia, at the instance of US, but all during this time, has benefitted immensely, owing to heavily subsidized oil from Russia, while at the same time, did not gave any reprieve internally to the general populace!
The aggravated war situation, which threatens the world at large, has on the contrary elevated Russia-China trade, towards a staggering rise of 33% after the onset of the war, as according to Chinese Customs Statistics, trade between China and Russia, year-on-year basis, from January to October 2022 has been $153.93 billion! There is a constant rise in trade, and moreover, both Russia and China have decided to trade in Rouble-Yuan , with the sole objective to target US Dollar driven economy. Russia’s almost half of export to China is its oil while broadcasting equipment and computers is what Russia relies on China. There are growing imprints of China in Russia’s Artic zone in terms of energy and infrastructure projects, Chinese investments in Russian railways and ports etc, which is a signal that this ‘friendship’ is into for long.
The new-friendship is surely to take a toll on ‘Dollar and Euro’ but where does Indian Rupee stand? It has had its historic downslide, to be right now at INR 82.79, and given its downfall , India might soon see 1 USD to be as equal to Rs 100 soon, all the while, as government would hone towards its touted claim for a five-trillion USD economy? Apart from this, this Russia-China camaraderie has every reason for an adverse fallout on India, particularly, in terms of our national security, as China’s belligerence on Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India is quite well known, notwithstanding, the Galwan and the latest Tawang skirmishes, but the worrisome aspect is Russia’s growing reliance on China, and also Russian reservations about India to have gone into the lap of Japanese conceptualized Quadrilateral Dialogue with US and Australia, in order to blunt the Chinese teeth in the Indo-Pacific, while a war between US and China is hovering over Taiwan.
It will be a very uphill task for New Delhi, to try to remain neutral in case the battle-lines are to be drawn over Taiwan. Will Russia stand by India in case India is to side with US in Taiwan? Which is quite likely, as Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Co-operation, between India and US is already in place, can now be anyone’s guess?
As the world stands on a nuclear threshold, India should not have any qualms that the Russian-Chinese ties have been cemented to the hilt, specifically after the Ukraine conflict, as Russia and China have both become overtly dependent on each other. This is what should ring the bell in New Delhi, more particularly so, when India is still dependent on around 70% of its ‘imports and maintenance of weaponry’ on Russia alone. But, today India in fact stands more solidly with US than ever before, and this is what makes India more geo-strategically vulnerable, as Russia-China closeness primarily stems from their inherent anti-US stand. The joint challenge to US, as a unilateral and the sole super-power of the world, is what binds Russia and China in an embrace.
India has had a long history of co-operation with Russia. But, now will its ties remain the same ‘unwavered’ and not to be dependent on any other nation ( read China) which navigates with Russia is to be seen. It is also an irrefutable fact that recently Russia and India’s worst bête noir Pakistan have also come closer. As Pakistan outgoing PM Imran Khan was with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve when the war started.
India is quite loathsome of Russia and China growing-companionship. Russia is wary of India’s proximity with US and the West, these have been the recent hallmarks of our foreign policy endeavors. Will India placate Russia by buying more its energy products, despite the wrath from US, to win Russian support in case of a conflict with China is what remains to be witnessed? But, India surely, has gone amiss with Russia, which had unwaveringly supported India in the war against Pakistan in 1971, and Pakistan ally US, had not come to its rescue. Russia on the side of India and US too on Indian side, with China on the other side, does however seem to be an uneven preposition. For Russia it would be too big of a hard sell. Let’s see how the coming years are to usher into.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international politics.