Monday, March 26, 2012

RIC, BRICS & Central Asia

Just came across interesting article in Russia & India report "Russia and India in "the loose geometry of world politics" written by Dr Andrei Volodin. Articles in Russian press about Moscow-Delhi relations are rarities so I felt urge to comment on the article.

It probably would interest observers of Eurasian geopolitics especially in view of upcoming BRICS summit in Delhi.

Mr Volodin analyzes India's foreign policy, her participation in international forums and seeks what common ground Russia & India have and what divide Cold War era allies.

Indian foreign policy is notoriously vague so author made commendable effort of decifering thoughts and actions of Delhi mandarins which he called "geometry of world politics".

Volodin has noted geopolitical rivalry between India and China which doesn't prevent Delhi from seeking concessions from Moscow & Beijing having stepped up cooperation with US.

Volodin wants India to clarify her position on Central Asian affairs:

-considering Russia’s “jealous” attitude towards any activities by other countries in Central Asia, is India prepared to concentrate its efforts on implementing in these countries, jointly with Russia (or independently), economic projects that do not seek to strengthen India’s strategic position at the expense of our country?

-to find out how sincere and substantive are the statements by some officials close to the country’s foreign policy establishment to the effect that India is “indifferent” to American projects of “Greater Central Asia” and “the new silk road”, which pose a direct threat to Russia’s interests in the region;

-what aims does India pursue in taking part in the “reconstruction” projects in Afghanistan and are these aims damaging to Moscow’s strategic interests?

These questions though valid seem to me ambigious and cannot be answered without further clarifications from the author of article. Tone of questions seem to imply anti-American attitude of Russian policy in Central Asia, Moscow's desire to check American designs in Central Asia and hence India's part in American projects.

But is Russian policy in CA so antagonistic? First, Central Asian states are nominally independent states which have full freedom to develop their ties with anybody including India and US. Russia should only welcome interest and investment in still very poor landlocked regions of the world.

It's true that Russia have certain obligations, mostly coming from CSTO (security organization) where CA states are full members (except neutral self-isolated Turkmenistan). Millions of Central Asians migrated to Russia in search of jobs. Russia virtually has no borders with CA countries so naturally Moscow is and will be very concerned whenever security is concerned.

That's why in my opinion Moscow frowned upon agreements Tajikistan stroke with India on air bases in Ayni & Farkhor. India has been renovating them at cost of tens of millions dollars (I didn't find exact figures, think Delhi spent around $70 mln). Despite some reports that India quietly based helicopters and fighter jets there, I believe the bases not used by India yet. Indian technical staff maybe present especially at Farkhor, but nothing else.

One thing is economic, cultural, even political influence, military is another matter altogether. Striking base deals with Tajikistan Indians probably didn't know about nature of CSTO, which has NATO-style obligations. I mean if hypothetically Tajikistan is attacked by third party (for example by Pakistan) then Russia have to fulfil CSTO obligations and will be in war with Pakistan, the state with nuclear arms. That's why Moscow apparently prevailed on Dushanbe and India almost lost her investment. There's one way for India to use Ayni - if Tajikistan leaves CSTO altogether which clearly is highly unlikely.

However in other fields I don't see how India which is separated from CA countries by Iran (which is placed under Western sanctions) and everhostile Pakistan and perpetually unstable Afghanistan can be a threat to Russian influence in the region. Geographical and geopolitical barriers are too high for India to replace Russia as paramount power even with the little help from Americans.

Here good overview of Russian-Indian relations. As you can see despite somewhat stalled economic ties the scope of Indo-Russian cooperation is quite big and diverse ranging from military, energy, space deals to culture projects. They cannot be taken hostage to disagreements over military bases in Tajikistan and maybe not identical positions on international problems from Syrian crisis to Western wars. India is different from Russia so naturally she has her own interests and concerns. Fortunately I didn't see these concerns were conflicting with Russian interests so potential for closer relations between Eurasian giants still there.

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