China and India each serve crucial roles in Russian grand strategy, and Moscow’s respective axes with both – not to mention the promise that their trilateral cooperation through RIC holds – have enabled it to ensure that the ongoing global systemic transition towards its ultimate goal of multipolarity has thus far been successful.
The State Of Play
Russia’s 21st-century grand strategy is to become the supreme “balancing” force in Eurasia, which naturally necessitates pragmatically managing relations with West and East. The first-mentioned might experience a breakthrough if the upcoming spree of negotiations on Russia’s “security equation” proposal bear fruit in successfully de-escalating the undeclared US-provoked missile crisis in Europe while the second has recently experienced a significant recalibration following President Putin’s trip to India in December. Russia’s relations with the West are driven by its desire to ensure that US-led NATO respects its red lines while its ones with the East center on maintaining the balance of power between fellow BRICS, SCO, and RIC partners China and India in order to promote political solutions to their disputes instead of the military ones that the US wants to provoke for divide-and-rule purposes.
The Western dimension is comparatively simpler yet much more significant in terms of Russia’s security. As difficult as it’ll be, all that Russia has to do is reach an agreement with the US, likely one that entails pragmatic mutual compromises (including in areas not directly connected to Europe such as Syria for instance). This topic is presently among the most discussed in the world ahead of the upcoming spree of negotiations next week while the Eastern vector of Russian grand strategy related to its efforts to maintain the balance of power between China and India isn’t talked about all that much except in the latter. This is likely due to many observers either being completely oblivious of Moscow’s motivations or feeling uncomfortable talking about them since they contradict the “politically correct” interpretation of International Relations which falsely claims that Russia wouldn’t ever “balance” China.
Background Briefing About Russia’s Indo-Sino “Balancing” Act
The present piece will provide additional clarity to Russia’s “balancing” act between these Asian Great Powers. It builds upon the author’s prior works on this topic, the most significant of which will be listed below for the reader’s convenience in case they’d like to learn more about his thoughts on this topic:
* 17 February 2021: “Why Structural Realists Are Wrong To Predict That Russia Will Help The US Against China”
* 6 August 2021: “Russian Scholar Karaganov Articulated Russia’s Balancing Act With China”
* 23 November 2021: “What’s Former Kremlin Grey Cardinal Surkov’s Prediction For The Future?”
* 7 October 2021: “Towards Bi-Multipolarity”
* 9 December 2021: “The Putin-Modi Summit Was A Global Geostrategic Game-Changer”
* 16 December 2021: “The Neo-NAM: From Vision To Reality”
* 17 December 2021: “The Russian Spy Chief’s Interview Adds Credence To Russia’s Balancing Intentions”
In short, Russia is unofficially exploring the opportunity of jointly assembling a network of likeminded countries (“Neo-NAM”) that share its and its Indian ally’s vision of “balancing” between the American and Chinese superpowers in the ongoing New Cold War’s increasingly dynamic bi-multipolar system.
Before elaborating a bit more on this aspect of its Eastern grand strategy, it’s crucial to clarify three things about Russian-Chinese relations. First, Russia has no interest whatsoever in “containing” China, including through military means. Its practice of “military diplomacy” sees it selling equally strategic and high-quality arms to China and India in order to maintain the balance of power between them and thus encourage political solutions to their disputes. This contrasts with the US’ respective policy which arms one country in a pair of rivals to the teeth in order to tilt the military balance in its favor and thus provoke military solutions to their disputes per its classic divide-and-rule strategy. What Russia is doing with India is predicated on “balancing” Eurasian affairs in a very friendly, gentle, and non-hostile manner that does its utmost to avoid inadvertently provoking a “security/strategic dilemma” with China.
Second, the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership is inarguably the engine of the global systemic transition from unipolarity to bi-multipolarity and ultimately towards the common end goal of multipolarity. Comprehensive strategic cooperation between these Great Powers accelerates this transition across all spheres, especially the economic, financial, and security ones. The new architectures that these two are pioneering through their efforts in BRICS, the SCO, and in bilaterally building a non-SWIFT payment system and missile-attack warning system are nothing short of revolutionary when it comes to their impact on International Relations. This is the most powerful axis for proactively reshaping the global order. Both Great Powers equally rely on the other since none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for their truly trust-based relations that survived the US’ divide-and-rule schemes over the years.
And third, all issues between Russia and China – both past, present, and potential – are manageable due to their leaderships’ shared vision for jointly accelerating the global systemic transition towards its ultimate multipolar goal. Their heads of state regard one another as sincere friends, their “deep states” (permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies) see eye-to-eye on all matters of global significance, and their expert communities routinely interact with one another through Track II diplomacy to keep the other informed of changing perspectives on relevant issues. It’s therefore unrealistic to expect their rock-solid strategic partnership to be divided through external meddling, including information warfare aimed at amplifying perceived or actual differences over whatever issue it might be for manipulative reasons.
The Russian-Indian “Third Choice/Way”
Having clarified that, it’s now time to discuss the grand strategic importance of Russian-Indian relations within the framework that was just elaborated. Where Russian-Chinese relations aim to accelerate the ongoing global systemic transition, Russian-Indian ones aim to manage it as responsibly as possible in order to maintain a balance of influence in Eurasia between the New Cold War’s American and Chinese superpowers. They aspire to do so by coordinating their complementary “balancing” acts in the supercontinent (and beyond since Africa is also a potential area of convergence between them in this respect) for the purpose of enhancing other countries’ strategic autonomy, which in term is meant to maximize their respective “balancing” acts between those same superpowers. Put simply, the Russian-Indian axis envisions providing a credible “third choice/way” for others between the US and China.
The Neo-NAM’s Modus Operandi
There are three ways in which this shared goal will be pursued. The first is militarily, which refers to Russia’s practice of “military diplomacy” that was earlier explained but expanded to include joint cooperation with India in third countries. In particular, their planned export of jointly produced BrahMos supersonic missiles to the Philippines and reportedly also other nations in Southeast Asia (such as Vietnam) and beyond can bolster the recipients’ military capabilities vis-à-vis China and ideally encourage political solutions to their territorial disputes per the paradigm first pioneered by Russia with respect to China and India. Taken further, third countries might feel more comfortable buying other jointly produced Russian-Indian arms instead of American or Chinese ones in order to avoid the optics of siding too closely with either of those two superpowers in the military sense.
The second method is economic, and this refers to trilateral investment projects in third countries as well as the creation of two complementary transregional connectivity corridors: the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) through Iran and Azerbaijan (with an eastern branch corridor into Central Asia for gently “balancing” Chinese influence there) and the Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor (VCMC) that could eventually include Japan, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and others as participants. The first helps economically “balance” the Eurasian Mainland while the latter does the same with respect to the supercontinent’s Indo-Pacific periphery. The cumulative effect could enable all these eventually interconnected countries to more confidently “balance” their economic ties with the American and Chinese superpowers, but it’ll of course take plenty of time before it reaches that point.
The final primary means through which the envisioned jointly led Russian-Indian “Neo-NAM” will “balance” Eurasian affairs is intellectually. Their top think tanks (the Valdai Club and Observer Research Foundation respectively) could expand their existing bilateral cooperation in multiple trilateral formats among their many envisioned partners across the hemisphere in order to educate their influential peers about those two Great Powers’ “multi-alignment policies in the bi-multipolar world order” (a conceptual euphemism for the Neo-NAM). A multilateral conference could serve as the climax of this intellectual outreach effort. That would be the most direct and effective way to proliferate this paradigm throughout those countries’ permanent bureaucracies, which could in turn eventually influence their decision makers to promulgate policies in line with those two’s complementary “balancing” visions.
China and India each serve crucial roles in Russian grand strategy, and Moscow’s respective axes with both – not to mention the promise that their trilateral cooperation through RIC holds – have enabled it to ensure that the ongoing global systemic transition towards its ultimate goal of multipolarity has thus far been successful. Neither Russia nor China could meaningfully move International Relations in that direction on their own, let alone if the US managed to divide and rule them, which is why each needs the other or none of this could happen. American-provoked divisions between China and India are troublesome, but they haven’t impeded progress on the global systemic transition due to Russia’s masterful “balancing” between both which has successfully prevented them from counterproductively sabotaging their shared aims through an all-out war driven by American meddling.
The Indian dimension of Russia’s “balancing” act builds upon the global systemic advances of the Chinese one by accelerating multipolar trends among the countless countries caught in the middle of the US-Chinese New Cold War through the Neo-NAM’s envisioned enhancement of their strategic autonomy. The de facto Russian-Indian hemispheric-wide “balancing” alliance that was clinched during President Putin’s trip to India in December wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the de facto Russian-Chinese global structural reform alliance that was reached much earlier around 2014 or so. The latter created the global systemic conditions within which the former aims to manage the balance of power and influence in order to maintain supercontinental stability. China and India are thus equally important for Russia, but for different reason though in pursuit of the same ultimately multipolar ends.