Russia & India have huge potential in energy sector

The potential for increased cooperation between Russia and India in the energy sphere is immense. Investors in both nations looking to expand mutually beneficial projects, India’s energy minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, told RT.

There’s a lot of ongoing cooperative work in the sector of petroleum and natural gas [between Russia and India]. It contains tremendous potential.”

He noted that Russia has many ongoing projects in the energy arena in India and is looking to further invest in the country. As it was expressed at a number of meetings with Russian companies at the EEF this week. According to Puri, India’s investments in Russia’s energy sector amount to some $16 billion. Russia has invested around $14 billion in India. 

Puri also stated that India’s import dependence on liquid hydrocarbons and gas is about 85%. Only about 1% of the country’s energy imports come from Russia. As India forecasts its economy to grow to $5 trillion in the next three to four years, he expects the country’s energy per capita consumption to grow “exponentially,” giving further ground for boosting energy cooperation between the two states.

We’ve got the roadmap in terms of the potential [in the energy sphere]. Both sides would want long-term agreements which provide predictability, stability and prices,” Puri said.

Russia and India are strategic partners in energy secotr

He added that he expects a “fascinating dialogue” about expanding energy inflows to India in the near future, as the country’s energy demand makes it a rather attractive market. 

No matter where you find oil and gas, somebody has to consume it. Many existing markets have reached a point where they have their sources, they have imports. India is one country where you can’t go wrong on the demand assessment. So potentially it’s a fascinating dialogue to have,” Puri said.

India is in need of energy and energy sources are here [in Russia]. Russia and India are strategic partners in energy and nobody has a second opinion on that,” he concluded.

During the EEF plenary session on Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke positively about energy cooperation between India and Russia. He said it can bring stability to the global energy market, calling it a “major pillar of our strategic partnership.”

In his virtual address, Modi said Indian workers were taking part in gas projects in the “Amur region, from Yamal to Vladivostok and onward to Chennai.” He added that Indian authorities “envisage an energy and trade bridge.”

I am happy that the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor is making headway. This connectivity project, along with the International North-South [Transport] Corridor will bring India and Russia physically closer to each other,” Modi stated.

For India Emperor has no clothes

India’ top diplomat S Jaishankar urges Western foreign-policy elites to engage in serious dialogue and compromise

By JAVIER M. PIEDRA

India has been sending a consistent message to the West over the past several years – apparently to no avail. The US may think in terms of a (conceptually problematic) Indo-Pacific region, but India is part of the Eurasian landmass; it sees itself more as a land/sea power than a maritime one. 

India, as a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), seeks a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific within the greater Eurasian context. This means that India will continue to deal with Russia, Iran, China and Myanmar (and anyone else) as it sees fit.

India perceived the changing dynamics in international relations long before Western foreign-policy elites caught on. It will decide matters of national security and external affairs according to its own perception of its interests.  

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in recent public appearances, has been trying to drill some sense into the ossified heads of Western foreign-policy elites.

One sometimes feels he has taken a leaf from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. The one in which two tailors convince the Emperor they can weave him a wardrobe that is invisible to fools or incompetent servants of the realm when in fact they make no clothes at all. They persuade onlookers to believe that the Emperor is wearing invisible clothes. 

Jaishankar’s message is that the policies of Western intellectuals have not been working, and unbeknownst to themselves, they are walking around buck-naked. Afghanistan, of course, has drawn devastating attention to their nakedness. 

Global politics have changed

If the West wishes to engage India meaningfully, it should pay attention to Jaishankar. As former foreign secretary of India and ambassador to the US and China, he has repeatedly counseled the West’s foreign-policy elites to ditch their post-1989 obsession with geopolitical gamesmanship – not his words – and engage in serious dialogue and compromise with other countries. 

In other words, Jaishankar is saying that just as the East India Company (1697-1857) and the British Raj (1858-1947) are things of the past, so is the post-1989 unipolar world. Global politics have changed. 

Jaishankar is calling on the West to reflect on many of its failed approaches to problem-solving in foreign affairs and accept that a rebalancing is taking place in the world. In his view, genuine dialogue and teamwork are more appropriate to current world affairs than the one-sided unilateralism, whining and zero-sum vision of Western foreign-policy elites of recent years. 

‘Good diplomacy’

Multipolarity is more than a weighted distribution of power among states – however that might be calculated – in which several groupings of states have roughly equal diplomatic, military, cultural, and economic influence. There’s more to it than that. A foreign policy viable over the long term, he insists, must be based on the inherent rights of sovereign nation-states. It does not matter however strong or weak, to engage, co-exist and have independent voices despite power asymmetries. 

Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington shortly after being appointed external affairs minister, Jaishankar stated that “a country keeps [its] relationships well-oiled with all the major power centers. And the country which does that best actually has a political positioning in the world which may be superior to its actual structural strengths.

“Good diplomacy,” he continued, “means more today than it did a few years ago.” He was urging the West to re-examine its current approach to foreign policy or risk irrelevance by alienating otherwise potentially friendly nation-states and disrupting the international system. 

An Indian proverb captures this nicely: “When the direction of the wind changes, adjust the sails on the boat.” That’s what India expects of the West. Namely, to institute a course correction lest sticky situations that could be resolved diplomatically descend into chaos. Afghanistan today is a good example, and there are many others.  

The West must not forget that history weighs heavily on India, which played no important role in the post-World War II order, and which had only a limited say in the Partition of British India in 1947.

The days of the British East India Company are over

Because of this, and given India’s undeniable rise in the 21st century, the West must be careful not to exclude India from the “high table,” as Jaishankar has said. The West must neither be seen in India as using the country to underwrite its own geo-strategic objectives nor as a toll road or platform for its own commercial interests. 

The days of the British East India Company are oer. Its motto, “By Command of the King and Parliament of England,” no longer applies to India. And much less to Eurasia. 

India is a forgiving nation but has a long memory. At the Atlantic Council in 2019, Jaishankar reminded the West of India’s “two centuries of humiliation” at the hands of the British.

He would never have said that in an open forum with the cameras rolling unless he wanted to remind his audience that Britain extracted from India the equivalent of some US$45 trillion during the colonial period. He wanted to convey a message: It’s high time the West rethinks its approach to international engagement, and especially to India. 

The West must come to grips with the fact that “there is a very radical change underway in the world. A radical change in the sense that this time around, really, the 1945 world order is running out of gas.” 

At the India Economic Conclave this March, Jaishankar said that China “has strategically ‘out-thought’ the West over successive generations. That explains why they are where they are. I’ve always seen lessons in China’s growth. In China’s importance, salience, centrality, call it what you want. To me, yes, China is a neighbor. And in many ways a challenging neighbor. It should inspire us.”

India sees the use of military as a last resort

One might infer Jaishankar thinks that if the West picks a fight with China, it must be the right fight. If it bites off more than it can chew, the outcome could well be far from pleasant. India sees the use of the military as a last resort. It was evident when India, in 2020, deployed reinforcements to Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. 

The joint press conference of US Secretary of State Anton Blinken and Indian EAM Jaishankar on July 28 in Delhi further confirms that India lost patience with Western sermons about India’s violations of human rights, which India does not deny. But when similar violations are leveled against the West, somehow the “Emperor” is fully decked out in new clothes.

Jaishankar was nothing if not diplomatic when reacting to Blinken’s criticism of Indian democracy. Jaishankar made three pointed observations: “Number one, the quest for a more perfect union applies as much to Indian democracy as it does to the American one – indeed, to all democracies. 

“Number two, it is the moral obligation of all – of all polities to right wrongs when they have been done, including historically. And many of the decisions and policies you’ve seen in the last few years fall in that category.

“Number three, freedoms are important, we value them, but never equate freedom with non-governance or lack of governance or poor governance. They are two completely different things.” 

To criticize the United States at a press conference is not an everyday event. India is telling the West that diplomacy comprises many views, opinions, and approaches. No single country holds a monopoly on virtuous political views and economic leadership. 

Dealing with China

India knows that the West has the habit of switching sides. There are many examples. Jaishankar reminds his Western counterparts that “when India was defeated in 1962, the West actually came to the assistance of India. But in less than a decade in 1971, when it seemed to the West that India was seeking primacy in the subcontinent, the West opposed India.”

There are certain red lines that should not be crossed; the West must be more consistent in its policies and show greater loyalty to its friends. It is a reasonable assumption that, here, Jaishankar is thinking of Pakistan’s historically close ties to the US. 

With respect to China, Jaishankar continues to meet with his Chinese counterpart, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. As reported on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, “China-India relations still remain at a low level, which is not in the interest of either side.” Nevertheless, expect the two sides to continue to engage in smart and tough diplomacy, making every effort to refrain from military encounters. 

India will hold its ground, especially on matters of territorial integrity. But in the first instance will negotiate to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. In this respect, Indian Army Chief General Manoj Naravane, like Jaishankar, understands the seriousness of the ongoing Sino-Indian border dispute along the Line of Actual Control. But rather than hurling bombs at the Chinese in public, he exudes a calm optimism. Showing no signs of paranoia or fear about China’s encroachment across the LAC.

“Trust but verify”

“China,” he says, “is trying to force its way and change the status quo with little regard for the interest of neighboring countries … trying to bulldoze its way. [Countries] need to take a stand and safeguard their interests…. [But] we must believe that China is serious this time [about finding a non-military solution to our northern border] and that [it] will abide by all clauses of this particular and previous agreements.”

The Indian army chief then calmly said that India’s approach to China is to “trust but verify.” It is ironic to hear a foreign statesman evoke Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” mantra at a time when Western leaders have veered so sharply from Reagan’s (wildly successful) approach to ending the Cold War.  

India and China recognize that the border issue is “visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner.” But as reported in the Kashmir Observer in July, “India and China have once again agreed to resolve their border standoff in Ladakh as prolonging the existing situation ‘was not in the interest of either side.’” 

And as David Goldman predicted in his Asia Times article “Cardinal Richelieu and the ghosts of empires past,” “India will quietly make its accommodation with China.” That seems to be the direction of Sino-Indian relations, whether the West likes it or not. 

Those in the West who are trying to convert the Quad from a strategic dialogue to a NATO-like military alliance should think twice, because the Indians will oppose its militarization. 

No ‘Asian NATO’

“The idea that when we come together and there is some sort of a threat or messaging to others, I think people need to get over this.… Using words like ‘Asian NATO,’ etc, is a mind-game which people are playing,” said Jaishankar.

“I can’t have other people have a veto about what I’m going to discuss, with whom I’m going to discuss, how much I’m going to contribute to the world. That’s my national choice. That kind of NATO mentality has never been India’s. If it has been there in Asia before I think it’s in other countries and regions, not in mine.”

One hopes that “neo-Mackinderite” proponents of the “Great Game” in Eurasia are listening.  

As Jaishankar has said, the “Quad is an expression of convergence of interests of many countries. It’s in many ways a reflection of the contemporary nature of the world order. We have to put the Cold War behind us; only those who are stuck in the Cold War can’t understand the Quad.” Going one step further, Jaishankar sees South-South cooperation as further evidence of the rebalancing that is taking place.

The West’s double standards

Minister Jaishankar, on his second trip in two months to Tehran, was more than clear when speaking of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi: “A warm meeting with President Ebrahim Raisi after his assumption of office. Conveyed the personal greetings of PM Narenda Modi. [Raisi’s] commitment to strengthening our bilateral relationship was manifest. So too was convergence in our regional interests. Looking forward to working with his team.”

Another disheartening moment for “neo-Mackinderites.” Jaishankar is not taking issue with the West for holding Iran accountable for human-rights violations and the export of terrorism, but he is saying that India will hold talks with anyone it pleases; 1989 is so yesterday.  

Another point worth reflecting on: What must Eurasian countries think when the West condemns Communist China, as it should, but showers praise and taxpayers’ money on Communist Vietnam? Vietnam’s leadership, after all, are committed communists whose track record on human rights is less that brilliant. The West’s double standard at the ideological level is surely as clear to Jaishankar as it is to everyone else. 

Ties with Russia

India and Russia have just wrapped up joint anti-terrorist military exercises in the Volgograd region in southern Russia. On a three-day visit in July to Moscow to prepare for the India-Russia bilateral annual summit, Jaishankar tweeted, “A warm and productive meeting with FM Sergey Lavrov. Reviewed preparations for our bilateral Annual Summit. Wide-ranging discussion on regional issues: Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Libya and Caucasus; ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific. 

“Spoke about recent global developments including Russia-US relations. Satisfied with our cooperation in multilateral organizations including UNSC. The quality of conversation reflected our special and privileged strategic partnership.”

To fill in the gaps, ​it wouldn’t hurt to read Jaishankar’s speech “India-Russia Ties in a Changing World” that he recently delivered at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. 

And at the sixth Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on September 3, Prime Minister Modi reiterated the special and privileged partnership between India and Russia.

“India and Russia will be partners in opening of the Northern Sea Route for international trade and Commerce.…. The friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time.… India will be a reliable partner for Russia….

“I am happy that the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor is making headway. This connectivity project along with the International North-South Corridor will bring India and Russia physically closer to each other.” Eurasian connectivity and Indo-Russian partnership is clear-cut.  

 

‘Mutual respect’

There is much for the West to reflect upon. Jaishankar is not spouting “talking points” when he says that “the West [at different times] didn’t want India to get too weak, and the West didn’t want to let India get too strong.”

He seems to be saying that it will not be easy for India and the West to build a lasting strategic relationship unless India is no longer viewed, as it was in the past, as a pawn in a much larger geo-strategic game that is still going on in the minds of foreign-policy elites. Post-1989 hubris must stop. 

Rarely heard in Western media, Gravitas, a Delhi-based Indian news channel, has produced a provocative commentary that captures, rightly or wrongly, the sentiments of many in Asia toward Western foreign-policy elites, especially considering the debacle now playing out in Afghanistan.

“The US needs India’s strategic partnership at this point to tackle China, to tackle climate change, to beat the pandemic. Tells you how flimsy their ideas really are. You see, every friendship has a red line, in this case, that red line is domestic interference.

“The US cannot waltz in and weigh in on Indian democracy. No country can. And that’s the whole point of mutual respect and sovereignty. The question is ‘how can India and the US find a balance?’ The United States has no permanent friends, just interests.” 

The West must work harder to convince India, through words and deeds, that it sees India as more than a strategic pawn, a customer for military equipment or a platform to secure supply lines from China. Climate change, infrastructure, connectivity, capital markets, digital, data and people exchanges are all well and good, but in the final analysis, India, as any nation-state, wants to be treated with respect and dignity. 

G20 has really replaced G7

Western elites must get used to the fact that, as Jaishankar says, a geo-strategic repositioning is taking place in Eurasia. “And if there is a single way by which to capture [the much larger strategic and cultural recalibration under way], it is the fact that today the G20 has really replaced the G7 as the primary body for global deliberations.”

Jaishankar might be on to something. The Group of 20’s broad membership and penchant for constructive diplomacy just might induce our “neo-Makinderites” to reassess the politics of confrontation, and the Quad to become more inclusive and a mechanism for constructive engagement. 

Speaking at a meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council on September 2 in Bled, Slovenia, Jaishankar observed: “Europe needs to know that it has friends in Asia, in the Indo-Pacific; that a lot of the principles and the outlook that Europe has, a lot of other countries share. I think that the binary – Western/non-Western – is a false binary.”

India will act as India wants

In other words, India rejects the thinking that justified the British Raj, and that still dominates the post-1989 reasoning of many Western foreign-policy circles. India will act as India wants; we can expect others to do the same.

And so, as the Emperor and his foreign-policy mandarins strut about in their “new clothes” (while in reality being buck-naked), pretending to hold the keys to the kingdom, the bringers of peace, prosperity, and stability, EAM Jaishankar, and others, have the temerity to point out, “But the Emperor has no clothes!” 

NATO’s botched Afghan policy and exit, the further unraveling of “neo-Mackinderite” foreign-policy thinking, the forward march of Eurasian economic and cultural ties, and the rebalancing that Jaishankar has been talking about for years, just might force the much-needed agonizing reappraisal of Western policy that was needed in 1989, and again in 2001, but never happened. Perhaps this time it will.  


Javier M Piedra is a financial consultant, specialist in international development and former deputy assistant administrator for South and Central Asia at USAID

India will help Russia turn Arctic into global trade route

New Delhi is planning to assist in developing Russia’s Northern Sea Route (NSR). And turning it into an international trade artery, according to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“India will help Russia in the development of the Northern Sea Route and opening this route for international trade the same way as Russia helps India to develop with the aim of space exploration and the preparation of the national manned Gaganyaan program,” Modi said, speaking via video link at a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum.

The Indian prime minister also said Moscow and New Delhi had managed to make significant progress in developing commercial ties despite massive disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The friendship between India and Russia has stood up against the test of time,” he said.

“Most recently, it was seen in our robust cooperation during the Covid-19 pandemic, including in the area of vaccines. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the health and pharma sectors in our bilateral cooperation.”

According to the Indian head of state, an energy partnership between the two nations would bring greater stability to the global energy market.

Modi also said that such joint projects as the Chennai-Vladivostok sea corridor, which is currently under development, provide greater connectivity along with the North-South transport corridor.


Major deal on developing Russia’s Big Northern Sea Route sealed at Eastern Economic Forum

A broad agreement aimed at providing stable growth of exports, cabotage and transit traffic along Russia’s Arctic sea route has been signed at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok on Friday.

Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and the Ministry for Development of the Far East and the Arctic agreed to closely cooperate on projects aimed at developing the transport artery stretching along Russia’s Arctic coast.

“The Big Northern Sea Route from Murmansk to Vladivostok plays an important role in transport security, and connects by sea the European part of Russia with the Far East,” Rosatom’s director general, Aleksey Likhachev, told the media on the sidelines of the EEF.

“We are interested in promoting cooperation under this project with both Russian and foreign counterparts,” he added.

The Northern Sea Route lies from the Kara Gate Strait in the west to Cape Dezhnev in Chukotka in the east. The Big Northern Sea Route includes the Arkhangelsk, Murmansk regions and St. Petersburg and the Far East from the Northern Sea Route’s border in Chukotka to Vladivostok. The 5,500-kilometer (3,417-mile) lane is the shortest sea passage between Europe and Asia.

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.

India has key first-mover edge on China in Iran

India doubling down on Iran’s Chabahar port project as strategic counter to China’s Belt and Road gains trade traction

By FM SHAKIL

When China clinched a massive $400 billion bilateral investment pact with Iran, few noted that India was already well-engaged.

By the end of May, India will begin full-scale operations in its first foreign port venture at Iran’s Chabahar. That is facility that opens on the Gulf of Oman that will aim to facilitate more South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East trade while bypassing Pakistan.

India’s US$500 million investment represents a clear and potent commercial challenge to China’s massive port investment in neighboring Pakistan’s Gwadar. Gwadar is a key component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The 10-year lease agreement, a deal first clinched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tehran in 2016, has until now been hobbled by US sanctions imposed under the Donald Trump administration.  

Indian suppliers and engineers, some with interests in the US, were reluctant to deliver essential machinery and services to Iran on fears they could somehow be sanctioned, despite clear exemptions on Chabahar in Trump’s sanction order. That led to certain speculation that China may take over the project from India.

New Delhi has doubled down and accelerated the project with the shift from Trump to Biden. It is banking like others on a new breakthrough on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement and a broader US-Iran warming trend.

Aerial view of Iran’s Chabahar port. Image: Twitter

India has supplied two large cargo-moving cranes. It will deliver two more in the coming weeks before the facility’s expected ceremonial opening.

New Delhi is already promoting the port’s potential humanitarian role, noting it was used to send emergency shipments of wheat to Afghanistan during the Covid-19 crisis and pesticide to Iran to deal with a recent locust infestation.

Pakistan is getting worried about losing regional trade

India’s renewed commitment to Iran via Chabahar is already setting alarm bells ringing in neighboring Pakistan, which is already losing regional trade mainly from Afghanistan to Iran despite US sanctions.

India and Pakistan recently announced a renewed commitment to an existing 2003 ceasefire over contested Kashmir. That move that should allow both to focus more on economic linkages than strategic rivalry.

Chabahar has seen limited operations since 2019, a result of US restrictions imposed on Iran’s energy exports. The port handled a mere 123 vessels with 1.8 million tons of bulk and general cargo from February 2019 to January 2021. It is well below its operating capacity, according to reports.

That’s set to change. New Delhi ultimately aims to link Chabahar to its International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). It is a project initially proposed by India, Russia and Iran in 2000 and later joined by 10 other Central Asian nations.

Some see the INSTC as a less-monied rival to China’s BRI. Belt-Road-Initiative has invested heavily in Pakistan’s road, power and trade infrastructure. And including huge multi-billion dollar investments at Gwadar port some critics have likened to a debt trap.

Security concerns sparked by armed groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where Gwadar is situated, have hindered progress on various BRI projects and pushed Pakistan to recently ramp up security at the Beijing-invested port.

From India to Europe – cheaper and faster

INSTC envisions a 7,200 kilometer-long, multimode network comprised of shipping, rail and road links. It is connecting India’s Mumbai with Europe via Moscow and Central Asia. Initial estimates suggest INSTC could cut current carriage costs by about 30% and travel times by half.

That means more trade and port activity for Iran and less for Pakistan. Last year Iran has already usurped 70% of Pakistan’s recent transport business at Karachi port.

Landlocked Afghanistan has traditionally relied on Pakistan as its gateway to international shipping routes. However, recent trends indicate that as much as 70% of Afghan transit trade is now handled by Iran.

If India presses ahead as planned with INSTC, Pakistan would be the ultimate loser as Afghan and Central Asian transport business diverts increasingly to Chabahar and away from Karachi and Gwadar.

“Iran had already started working on a 600-kilometer-long railway line connecting Chabahar port to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province close to the Afghan border,” he said.

India has already lined up $1.6 billion for the project to facilitate the movement of goods to and from Afghanistan via Iran. India also plans to invest $2 billion to develop supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigak railway line in Afghanistan.

Many Afghan traders are plugging into Chabahar

Many Afghan traders still rely on traditional transit routes through Pakistan. However, many are plugging into Chabahar’s comparative cost-effectiveness and speed in handling transit cargo, analysts say. The same is true for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other landlocked Central Asian countries looking for alternatives to Pakistani ports.      

Pakistan-Afghanistan trade has recently fallen from around $2.5 billion to $1 billion annually due to wide-ranging differences over the now expired transit agreement.

“Afghans want Pakistan to allow Afghan wheelers to enter into Indian border areas through Wagah for transportation of Afghan export goods and on return upload import consignments from India,”

“Pakistan on the other hand argues that the APTTA is a bilateral arrangement between Pakistan and Afghanistan and not a trilateral agreement to facilitate mutual trade between India and Afghanistan,”.

Chabahar is Iran’s only oceanic port and so far consists of Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti terminals. Each of which has five berth facilities. The port is located in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province. It is about 120 kilometers southwest of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where the China-funded Gwadar port is situated.

In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement for the strategically-located Chabahar to give New Delhi access to Kabul and Central Asia without having to travel through Pakistan.

Chabahar is regional project unlike Gwadar which is China oriented

The original plan committed at least $21 billion to the so-called Chabahar–Hajigak corridor, which then included $85 million for Chabahar port development, a $150 million credit line to Iran, an $8 billion India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in a Chabahar special economic zone, and $11 billion for the Hajigak iron and steel mining project awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan.

Unlike Chabahar, which is designed more to serve the economic and trade interests of the wider region, Gwadar is more tilted toward Beijing’s ambitions, analysts and traders say.

Gwadar port’s planned capacity will accommodate a massive 300 to 400 million tons of cargo annually, comparable to the combined annual capacity of all Indian ports. It also dwarfs the 10-12 million tons of cargo handling capacity now planned for Chabahar.

In another comparison, the largest US port at Long Beach, California, handles 80 million tons of cargo, about a quarter of what Gwadar could handle upon completion of a project that is designed largely to receive and move China’s, not the region’s, trade.

India-Russia friendship too pragmatic to be ruined

Sreeram Chaulia

Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India. His forthcoming book is ‘Crunch Time: Narendra Modi’s National Security Crises’

Upon his return from India last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said he feels no wavering on New Delhi’s end of its defense cooperation with Moscow. Despite American pressure on anyone doing business with Russia.

The 19th century British statesman Lord Palmerston famously said “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual.” This maxim has been used to justify flexibility for a country to choose and discard partners. Depending on the changing times and circumstances.

Whether in defiance, or in support of this very pragmatic logic, one major relationship has persisted. India and Russia have sustained a robust partnership through the Cold War, the post-Cold War era, and now in the emerging multipolar order. The international system as a whole has changed beyond comprehension in the last fifty years, but what New Delhi and Moscow call ‘Druzhba-Dosti’ (friendship in Russian and Hindi) has remained intact.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar referred to this while hosting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on April 7 by remarking that India and Russia have shown a “consistent ability to identify and update our shared interests.”

In spite of the US

While there is a perception of divergence between the two sides due to their respective global strategic compulsions, India needs Russia and vice-versa. The ‘special and privileged strategic partnership’ is not fading away. Defense cooperation is an obvious illustration of that. Lavrov’s comment in New Delhi that ‘prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment on India’s territory are under discussion’ caught attention in India because of the threat of American sanctions on any country that does ‘significant transactions’ with Russia.

New Delhi insists that the Russian-made S-400 anti-missile system is essential for India’s national security and that imposing sanctions on India for pursuing its core national interests would be a strategic blunder by the US. Russia is a touchstone for India to prove its ‘strategic autonomy’ in foreign policy. Moreover, Russia has been the most generous among the world’s military powers in offering co-production and technology transfer to India for defence manufacturing. Lavrov’s emphasis that ‘we are the only partner that indeed transfers to India cutting-edge military technology’ and that this is in ‘the national interests of both countries,’ conveys that the two sides are determined to plough ahead.

President Vladimir Putin’s commitment to enhancing India’s indigenous defence production capacities matches with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of making India an exporter of ‘low-cost, high-quality’ weapons. Russia is keen to retain its share of the Indian defence market, which has historically been massive but lately has fallen to 49% of total Indian military imports. If Russia’s competition for a share of the Indian defence pie with France (18%), Israel (13%) and the US spurs more advanced co-development of weapons with India, it serves both New Delhi and Moscow.

Between China and India

Skeptics who contend that India and Russia are strategically drifting apart because of the former’s closeness to the US, the latter’s alignment with China, and intensifying tensions between India and China, should look at how Russia promptly supplied much-needed defence equipment to India in 2020 as New Delhi was engaged in a major national security crisis along its northern border. Jaishankar acknowledged in Lavrov’s presence that “our defence requirement in the past year was expeditiously addressed” by Russia.

Lavrov’s statement that “we are closely watching the process of normalisation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC)” between China and India was not unwelcome from an Indian point of view. Moscow’s good offices have been creatively used both in the 2017 Doklam standoff and during the LAC dispute that began in 2020. India and Russia serve as each other’s balancing factors that bring stability in relations with China.

Unlike the crude offers to ‘mediate’ or ‘arbitrate’ between China and India that the US made under President Donald Trump, Putin’s Russia has a proven record as a pragmatic interlocutor. Lavrov has assured New Delhi that “Russia has no plans to sign a military alliance with China”. Russia has been willing to hear out India’s geopolitical perspectives and dilemmas despite having a joint front with China in standing up to the West. The same open-mindedness has led to exploration of new avenues such as Japan-India-Russia trilateral economic cooperation in Russia’s Far East and India manufacturing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines for combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sticking points

One issue where differences have crept in between India and Russia is Afghanistan. Some in India have expressed worries of a ‘Russia-China-Pakistan axis’ emerging in South-Central Asia whose practical effect could be to sideline India from the settlement of Afghanistan’s future. Lavrov’s recent discussions with Jaishankar on Afghanistan, the former’s reiteration that India was very much a part of the ‘Moscow format’ for stabilising Afghanistan and an ‘important player in the settlement in Afghanistan’, should calm nerves in New Delhi.

Russia’s defence sales to Pakistan are much smaller in volume and scope than the India-Russia security cooperation. And in themselves are not major irritants. What is required in order to reduce disagreements on this front is for Russia and India to coordinate better on their commonly stated goal of an ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process.’

Iran is another regional issue where India and Russia are looking more aligned now. The restart of talks involving the Europeans, Russia, China, the US and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement has India’s wholehearted backing. New Delhi’s investments and plans to integrate with Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia via Iran’s Chabahar port were stuck in limbo as long as Washington applied ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on Tehran. India’s push to get Chabahar included in the agenda of the 13-nation International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could connect Russia, Iran, India and Central Asia closer and help usher in balance in the Eurasian region.

In this context, it can be a good sign that Lavrov personally met the Joe Biden administration’s climate envoy and former US Secretary of State John Kerry. He had played a crucial role in the US-Iran thaw of 2015, while both happened to be in New Delhi.

With a lot still in common between India and Russia, the global dichotomies of Sino-US confrontation and Russia-US frostiness need not be insurmountable hurdles. In the current fluid multipolar world, there are no watertight or exclusive alliances. Countries have to forge one set of friends on one issue and another set on a second issue. India and Russia are mature enough to understand this dynamic.

US warship stirs the waters ‘without Indian consent’

Reacting to the development, the Ministry of External Affairs adhered to the government’s stand on not allowing military exercises in its exclusive economic zone without consent and said it has conveyed its concerns to the US government through diplomatic channels

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |

Days after the first summit of the Quadrilateral grouping and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin’s visit to New Delhi, the US Seventh Fleet announced that one of its warships, USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), had carried out a Freedom of Navigation operation west of Lakshadweep Islands. “Inside India’s exclusive economic zone! And without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law”.

Responding to this public announcement by the US Navy which raised eyebrows given the growing ties between the armed forces of the two countries, especially their navies, New Delhi said: “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels.”

“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.”

“The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state,” it said.

In a statement dated April 7, Arabian Sea, the US Seventh Fleet said: “USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” it said.

Freedom of Navigation Operations

“US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” it said.

Under Indian law — The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 — “all foreign ships (other than warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters” and a passage is innocent “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of India”.

“Foreign warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles may enter or pass through the territorial waters after giving prior notice to the Central Government,” the law states.

The US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operation near Lakshadweep is not unprecedented. The US Department of Defence publishes an annual Freedom of Navigation report and India found mention in the 2019 report along with 21 other countries that included China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Saudi Arabia. India was mentioned in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 reports as well.

But the public announcement of the operation has raised eyebrows. It comes at a time when military cooperation between India and the US is on the rise. Their navies were involved in a joint exercise, along with navies of Japan, France and Australia in the eastern Indian Ocean region, in the La Pérouse exercise between April 5 and April 7, and led by the French Navy.

“Shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific”

Last month, Secretary of Defence Austin conveyed to New Delhi the Biden administration’s “commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries”.


India and the US, along with Australia and Japan, make the Quadrilateral grouping. At its first summit on March 13, Quad leaders affirmed their commitment to a “shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific” and a region that is “inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion”.

The Quad members, for the first time since 2007, had together participated in the Malabar multilateral wargaming exercise last November.

Reacting to the Seventh Fleet statement, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, in a Twitter post, said: “There is irony here. While India ratified UN Law of the Seas in 1995, the US has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoN missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF!” — IFF stands for Identification, Friend or Foe.

He also questioned the intent behind the move. “FoN ops by USN ships (ineffective as they may be) in South China Sea, are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” he said.

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