India-Russia-China relations

Russia, China & India – Working together in Afghanistan

By Pranay Sharma

While world leaders debate whether or not to engage with the Taliban-led leadership in Afghanistan and how, Russia seeks to reassure its longtime partner India that New Delhi’s perspective matters.

Just recently Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To assess the situation in Afghanistan. The leaders agreed to create a joint group of representatives of the foreign policy departments and the national security sphere.

Russia appears to be in no hurry to recognize the Taliban *. Moscow will share its assessment of the situation with New Delhi as soon as it is held.

The capture of Kabul by the Taliban opened the way for Russia and China to expand their influence in South and Central Asia. Both countries, as well as Qatar, which maintains good relations with Taliban political leaders, have not closed their embassies in the Afghan capital, while the United States and its allies, as well as India, hastily seek to evacuate their staff.

New Delhi’s influence on the Taliban is small, given India’s deep suspicions of an Islamist group, which it accuses of harboring militants who carried out attacks in Kashmir, which it controls, with the encouragement of the country’s nemesis, Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Russia convened an “enlarged three” meeting in Doha with the US, China and Pakistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan, but India was not invited.

The Taliban owe nobody for their victory

“Everyone is rushing about right now, trying to figure out how to protect their interests,” says PS Raghavan, former chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Council. However, according to him, it is not easier for Moscow and Beijing to deal with the Taliban. Although both countries supported the US withdrawal, he adds, “The Taliban owe neither China nor Russia for their victory.”

Indeed, while China has offered to help rebuild Afghanistan, it is concerned that extremism will spread to Xinjiang, the country’s northernmost province. On Wednesday, Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a telephone conversation to discuss the security situation. Xi told Putin that Beijing is willing to work with other countries, including Russia, to push all parties in Afghanistan to create an inclusive political structure cut off from terrorist groups.

Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, believes that Russia views China and India as its two main strategic partners. India and Russia define their ties as a “special and privileged strategic partnership” and meet regularly to engage in trade, energy, science, technology and culture.

However, Indian observers also point to Moscow’s warmer relations with Beijing as a source of concern for New Delhi. Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterized the Quadripartite Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the US, India, Australia and Japan, as “anti-Chinese” and called it an American ploy to shield New Delhi from Moscow’s influence. Then Indian observers noted that he was silent about the threat that China poses to India, because these countries are involved in a border dispute.

In the modern world, there is no exclusivity in relations

“In the modern world, there is no exclusivity in relations. We can talk about Russia and China, and they will talk about India and the United States, ”says Raghavan, who served as ambassador to Russia in 2014-2016. India, he adds, will have to control bilateral relations in such a way that they do not affect the core interests of other relations.

New Delhi’s concerns about Moscow’s commitment to their partnership increased when Russia took part in a large-scale joint military exercise with China in the Ningxia region earlier this month, using Su-30SM fighters, motorized rifle formations and air defense systems.

This move has caused bewilderment in Delhi, and not only because Moscow is the main supplier of military equipment for India and provides 55% of its military needs. The joint exercises took place against the backdrop of a year-long military clash between China and India in Ladakh.

Deependra Singh Hooda, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, said the joint exercise was “intended for the United States, not India.” In his opinion, fears that China will learn about India’s military equipment are unfounded, since most of the equipment supplied by Russia is the same for both sides. “It is wrong to feel oppressed by such teachings,” added Huda.

Moscow tried to facilitate dialogue between Dely and Beijing

Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary who served as Indian ambassador to Moscow from 2004-2007, says Russia has been supplying advanced military equipment to China for many years and has also conducted military exercises with Pakistan. Joint exercises are also conducted within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s security group, in addition, Russia has conducted naval exercises with China in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As noted by Sibal, Russia also conducts annual military exercises with India. “There is no reason to be particularly worried about these joint military exercises,” he adds.

According to the head of the Carnegie Trenin Moscow Center, Moscow also tried to facilitate dialogue between Delhi and Beijing last year, but the Ladakh dispute is a sovereign issue between the two countries. “Russia will never unite with China against India, it is a completely reliable partner of India,” he said.

According to former national security adviser Raghavan, a guaranteed supply of spare parts for military equipment is better than joint exercises. When China wanted Russia to suspend supplies to India during a border clash, he said, Moscow calmly signaled that it would continue its supplies.

Unlike the Cold War era, Trenin says, India-Russia relations are not exclusive, as India has moved closer to the United States in recent years, which sees Russia as a rival and imposes sanctions on it. India took part in joint naval exercises with the United States as part of the Quad, he said, and while Russia may not like it, it did not question New Delhi’s right to choose partners. “In the changing geopolitical and strategic environment of the 21st century, Moscow and Delhi need to learn to develop their valuable strategic partnership in a non-exclusive manner,” Trenin said.

Most of India’s military equipment is of Russian origin

According to the Washington-based Stimson Center, 86 percent of India’s military equipment, weapons and platforms are of Russian origin, from aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to tanks deployed in Ladakh. The Su-30MKI fighter, the backbone of the Indian Air Force, is also of Russian origin, while the Indian supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, capable of carrying a nuclear charge, was developed with Russia.

The US is also supplying India with military equipment, such as Apache and Chinook helicopters and M777 howitzers deployed in Ladakh, as well as Boeing C-17 and C-130J aircraft, which provide the Indian Air Force with strategic airlift capability. The US-made P81 anti-submarine aircraft is also popular with the Indian Navy.

According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the second largest arms importer in the world in 2015-2019. Although New Delhi has diversified its defense sources, making Israel and France the main suppliers as well, Russia remains at the top of the list.

According to the SIPRI database, since 2014, Russia has sold $ 9.3 billion worth of defense materials, and the United States received $ 2.3 billion for similar goods over the same period. Since 2000, deliveries from Russia have accounted for more than two-thirds of India’s total $ 51 billion defense imports.

According to Trenin, Russia does not have a monopoly on the sale of military equipment to India, and New Delhi has been diversifying its defense imports for many years. “However, a defense relationship is a matter of mutual trust, like treating a friend you can trust in times of crisis,” he said.

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