It might be uncomfortable for India to accept that a partner as trusted as Japan just tried to interfere in its relations with Russia, but that’s the reality as it arguably appears to be given the sequence of events that just transpired.
A scandal suddenly erupted within the Quad earlier this week after India refused to allow a plane from fellow partner Japan’s “Self-Defense Forces” (SDF) to pick up humanitarian supplies in the country that were destined for Poland and Romania. New Delhi quickly clarified, however, that “We have conveyed our approval for picking of such supplies from India using commercial aircraft.” The Hindu noted that the use of civilian aircraft is obviously preferred by India over military ones like the SDF plane that was initially dispatched on this mission since the South Asian state very proudly practices a policy of principled neutrality. It continues to do so despite immense American pressure to publicly condemn Russia for its ongoing special military operation in Ukraine. Since the scandal has now been clarified, it’s time to analyze exactly why it even happened at all and what everything related to it might mean.
India and Japan have excellent relations and closely cooperate bilaterally and through the Quad alongside America and Australia. They’re officially driven by their pursuit of mutually beneficial outcomes that supposedly aren’t directed against any third party even though most observers suspect that shared concerns about their mutual Chinese neighbor’s rise played a role in bringing them closer together over the past decade at the accelerated pace that their relations haver since developed. Whether that’s the case or not, there’s also no denying that these two strategic partners practice different policies towards Russia: India’s is one of principled neutrality while Japan has dutifully complied with its American overlord’s demands to sanction that Eurasian Great Power even though it’s declined to quit its Sakhalin energy project on the pretext that doing so would somehow help Moscow.
Nevertheless, the Japanese leadership seems to believe that their national interests are best served by taking on a more prominent role in their American overlord’s anti-Russian campaign to the extent that’s realistically possible given Tokyo’s limitations in this respect. With that in mind, it seems to have plotted to rope India into an anti-Russian provocation by dispatching its SDF plane to pick up humanitarian aid in that country en route to Ukraine’s NATO neighbors in Central Europe. Had New Delhi approved its landing, then the optics would have been such that Moscow might have wondered why its special and privileged strategic partner would allow a military plane from a newly designated unfriendly country (the legal category of which refers to states like Japan and those in the EU that have sanctioned Russia) to carry out this humanitarian mission when a civilian one could have been used instead.
India’s strategists have very wise and know their Russian de facto allies very well, which is why they weren’t going to get roped into this provocation by their fellow Quad partner. That’s why they refused to authorize the SDF plane’s landing since Japan should have known better by dispatching a civilian aircraft for carrying out this humanitarian mission instead. Tokyo’s decision to send a military one suggests that it intended to cause trouble in Russian-Indian relations in the event that New Delhi might not have realized how uncomfortable the optics would have looked from Moscow’s perspective if it allowed that landing to take place. This leads to the conclusion that Japan’s meddling in India’s foreign policy with one of its top partners anywhere in the world might have been at the behest of the US. After all, America wants nothing more than to ruin their special and privileged strategic partnership.
It might be uncomfortable for India to accept that a partner as trusted as Japan just tried to interfere in its relations with Russia, but that’s the reality as it arguably appears to be given the sequence of events that just transpired and the way in which they’d have predictably been interpreted from the Russian perspective had New Delhi authorized that SDF to land on its territory for carrying out that humanitarian mission to Poland and Romania. Those two Central European NATO members also happen to host elements of the US’ so-called “missile defense shield” that Russia regards as a threat to its national security, particularly with respect to their latent potential to gradually erode its nuclear second-strike capabilities and therefore shift the strategic balance in the US’ favor. Keenly aware of these military-strategic and soft power dynamics, India wisely refused to allow the SDF plane to land.
Looking ahead, it can’t be discounted that more such cunning provocations against the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership might be launched against New Delhi by those countries that it had previously trusted. The US is already waging an increasingly intense information warfare campaign against it while Japan just tried to trick it into doing something that would have complicated its ties with Russia had this plot succeeded. Australia’s the last member left of the Quad whose intelligence agencies have yet to launch their own meddling operation against India so they should be monitored very closely in case they decide to make such an attempt in order to signal fealty to their American overlord. Hopefully India’s partners will reconsider the wisdom of risking the loss of trust that they worked so hard to gain over the past decade and stop pressuring it through various means into distancing itself from Russia.