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1/28/2015

CentralAsiaandtheIndiaRussiaPartnership|TheDiplomat

Image Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office, Kremlin

Central Asia and the India-Russia Partnership


Strategic realities in Central Asia are likely to see Russia and India returning to their historically
strong ties.
By Anthony Rinna
January 27, 2015

Inordertocounterbalanceahegemonic,unipolarglobalorderdominatedbytheUnitedStates,formerRussianForeign
MinisterYevgeniyPrimakovproposedinthe1990sthecreationofastrategictrianglebetweenChina,Indiaand
Russia.Whiletenyearsagoitbrieflyappearedthatthisambitiousendeavormighthavebeenpossible,thevastly
divergentinterestsofthethreepowershavepreventedsuchbroadpartnership.NowRussiaisonceagainundertakingto
strengthenitsrelationswithChinaandIndiainwhatsomehavelikenedtoBarackObamasownpivottowardAsia.A
fullfledgedcooperativearrangementbetweenChina,IndiaandRussia,however,seemsunlikelybecauseofthethree
countriescompetinginterestsinCentralAsia.Instead,RussiasdesignstobecomemoreintegratedwithAsiawill
possiblyleadtoastrongerIndoRussianrelationshipattheexpenseofamoresolidifiedSinoRussianpartnership.
ThefeasibilityofRussiamakingafullorientationtowardAsiacameunderdoubtevenbeforetheWestimposed
economicsanctionsinresponsetothecurrentcrisisinUkraine.Nevertheless,VladimirPutincontinuestodevelophis
countrystieswithAsiasrisingpowers,includingsummitmeetingswithbothChinaandIndia.IndiaandRussia,while
notasclosethesedaysastheywereduringtheSovietera,havestillmaintainedcooperativerelations,whichappear
poisedtogrowstronger.ChinashistoricallyproblematicrelationswithbothIndiaandRussiahaveimprovedinrecent
years,despitelingeringproblemsintheSinoIndianrelationship,includingafesteringborderdispute,andcontinuing
mutualdistrustbetweenChinaandRussia.
DespiteimprovedrelationsbetweenthethreecountriesandRussiasrecentstepstowardthefurtherdevelopmentof
relationswithChinaandIndia,allthreecountrieshavecompetinginterestsinCentralAsia.Thisisespeciallytrueof
ChineseinterestsinCentralAsia,whicharemoredirectlyopposedtoIndianandRussianregionalimperativesthan
IndianandRussianinterestsaretoeachother.IndiawantstoincreaseitsleverageandinfluenceinCentralAsia,while
Russiawishestomaintainandincreaseitspredominantgeopoliticalstance.YetIndiaandRussiasinterestsare
currentlynotasdiametricallyopposedtoeachotherasChinasinterestsaretoboththoseofIndiaandRussia.Russia,
therefore,willmostlikelygrowcloserwithIndiabecauseChinaisthebiggerthreattobothIndiaandRussiainCentral
Asia.SomemaypostulatethatRussiawillbeabletobringChinaandIndiaclosertogether.AsAnkitPandaargues,
however,RussiasimplydoesnothavethediplomaticleverageoverBeijingorNewDelhitoenactsuchanarrangement.
IndiahasbeguntoshowgreaterinterestinCentralAsia,aspoliticalchangesinCentralAsiaoverthepast25yearshave
proventobelargelybeneficialforIndia.Thecreationoffivenewcountriesafter1991,especiallygiventhepresenceof
wartornAfghanistanandahostilePakistan,provedtobeasourceofinspirationforIndia.Today,Indiasrelationship
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1/28/2015

CentralAsiaandtheIndiaRussiaPartnership|TheDiplomat

withtheCentralAsianrepublicscanbedescribedasastrategicpartnership,andIndiahassoughttomakesureithas
anactiveroleintheregion.TheincreaseinChineseforeignpolicyactivityinCentralAsiawasamajorimpetusfor
greaterIndianinvolvementintheregion.Inturn,manyCentralAsianrepublicsareinterestedinstrengtheningtrade
tieswithIndiaastheyseeanopportunitytobecometransitcorridorsforIndianmerchandiseshippedtoEuropeandthe
CommonwealthofIndependentStates.
UnderNadendraModi,IndiahasbeguntopursueamoreassertiveforeignpolicythatislessinlinewiththeUnited
States.ModihasstatedthattheideaofaunipolarworlddominatedbytheUnitedStateshasnotmaterialized,andthat
greatercooperationbetweenChina,IndiaandRussiaisneededtomaintainaglobalbalance.IndiaandRussiaboth
enjoyastrongstrategicpartnershipwitheachother,whiledespitecallsforgreatercooperation,IndiaseesChinaasits
mainstrategiccompetitorinCentralAsia.OneofIndiasmaininterestswithregardstogreaterinvolvementinCentral
Asiaisenergysecurity.UmedjonMajididescribesenergysecurityasthekeynexusofIndiasforeignpolicy.China,
however,hasproventobeanimpedimenttothis,underscoredbyChinasdemonstratedabilitytomaneuverintoenergy
contractsinCentralAsiathatundercutbothIndianandRussianinterests.ThisisexemplifiedbyChinasthwartingof
theTAPIpipelineinfavorofitsownenergydesigns.
SomeRussiananalystshavetakenamoregenerousviewofChineseinterestsinCentralAsiavisvisRussianplans,
andhavecriticizedRussiaspoliticalcultureofdemonizingChinasactivitiesinCentralAsia.Nevertheless,Moscow
remainscautiousaboutBeijingsroleinCentralAsia,especiallywithChinaseconomicthrustintotheregion.Oneof
thekeymechanismsforRussiatomonitorandhandleapotentialChineseinfringementofRussianinterestsinCentral
AsiaistheShanghaiCooperationOrganization(SCO).TheSCOrepresentsamajorframeworkthroughwhichthe
strategicrelationsbetweenChina,RussiaandIndiawilllikelydevelop.FollowingarecentannouncementthatIndia,
currentlyanobserverstate,wouldbeallowedtoaccedetofullmembership,theSCOisoneofthemainmechanismsby
whichIndiaaspirestoincreaseitsactivenessinCentralAsia.IndiasmovetowardsfullSCOmembershipreceivedtop
levelsupportfromRussia.TheincreaseinChineseinfluenceinCentralAsiainthecontextoftheSCOhasactuallyset
offalarmbellsforRussia,andassuchRussiahaswelcomedgreaterIndianinvolvementintheprocess,asIndiaisthe
onlyothermajorpowerthatcanprovideafeasiblecounterbalancetoChina.
Ofcourse,CentralAsiaisnotthesoledeterminingfactorinthedevelopmentofRussiascurrentandfuturerelations
withChinaandIndia.YettheimmensegeopoliticalvalueCentralAsiapresentsforthesethreepowersmeansthata
competitiverelationshipregardingCentralAsiaislikelytobeathorninthesideoftrulyhealthyrelations.Assuch,it
appearsthatitwillbeunlikelythatRussiawillmakeafullfledgedreorientationorpivottowardAsiaintheformof
adefinitivestrategictrianglewithtwoofAsiasgreatpowers,ChinaandIndia.Themostplausibleoutcomefrom
RussiasattemptsatsolidifyingitspositioninAsiaisthatbothIndiaandRussia,whichhavehistoricallyhadamuch
betterrelationshipthaneitherhashadwithChina,willonceagainformadeeperpartnershipinordertohelppreserve
theirownrespectiveinterestsinCentralAsiaagainstthesharedChinesethreat.
AnthonyRinnaisanAmericanforeignaffairswritercurrentlybasedinSouthKorea.

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