The Russian and Indian navies are carrying out exercises in the Bay of Bengal, which come on the heels of the ones that they just concluded on the mainland between their countries’ respective armies. Russian-Indian relations areundergoing a renaissance at the moment after the late Ambassador Alexander Kadakin paved the way for his successor Nikolai Kadashkin to build on hislegacy and restore the fraternal ties that these countries enjoyed for decadesprior to the comparative chill that set in after the end of the Old Cold War.There’s no doubt that “military diplomacy” is leading the way in this respect,and although India sometimes seems to struggle with its ambitious policy of“multi-alignment”, its latest move in regard to Russia is extremely noteworthy.
Apart from their recent spree of military exercises, Russia and India are reportedly about to conclude a military logistics agreement modelled off of the one that India clinched with the US in summer 2016. At the time, this unprecedented deal turned India into one of America’s main military-strategic allies and threw the South Asian state’s historic neutrality into doubt, but reaching the same agreement with Russia could partially assuage some of the concerns that more than a few observers have about its long-term intentions vis-à-vis “containing” China in the Indian Ocean. Should Russia be granted the same military logistics privileges as the US, then that could conceivably restore India’s strategic “balance” to an extent and prevent it from being taken advantage of by the US.
Russia’s interest in gaining access to Indian military facilities on a case-by-case logistical basis is to reestablish some vestige of its Soviet-era presence in the Indian Ocean Region through which most of the world’s energy trade is conducted and half of its commercial container traffic traverses. This isn’t just for simple reasons of prestige but has a much more pragmatic purpose in having the Russian Navy function as a training force capable of imparting the valuable experience that it acquired from the Syrian mission onto its many regional partners, first among them India but also potentially in the future even the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Myanmarese navies as well. Had Russia not prioritized clinching a logistics deal with India first, then New Delhi might doubt Moscow’s intentions.
Instead, India would have no reason to suspect Russia of strategic subterfuge if it reached similar agreements with thoseregional states afterwards, one of whom – Pakistan – is India’s chief rival.Russian-Pakistani relations, which have really taken off over the past few years, aren’taimed against any third-party state but are driven by shared interests in avariety of spheres, one of which is energy cooperation such as the $10 billion proposal for Russia to build an underseapipeline from Iran to Pakistan and possibly even as far as India. Accordingly,it makes sense that the Russian Navy would want to secure this project fromregional terrorist threats, hence why it might try to reach a logistics pactwith Pakistan if it’s successful in doing so with India first.
The logic behind this move might also be toexpand Russia’s presence in the Arabian Sea in parallel with similar moves inthe Bay of Bengal that could be driven by related energy-security interests inthat maritime region on the other side of India. Altogether, the grandstrategic scenario at play could very well be that Russia is using its restoredrelations with India to spread its influence all throughout South Asia, knowingthat it must first put any concerns of the aspiring regional hegemon at restbefore reaching out to its neighbors in the same military logistics capacity.This strategy will probably succeed because all the relevant countries have aninterest in welcoming Russia’s renewed role in the region as a “balancing” force for facilitating stable relationsbetween them.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: Oriental Review