India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s Russia visit is significant not only for India but also for Russia and China especially when the world is coming to terms with the covid19 pandemic. During the three day visit, the Indian Defence Minister held talks with the top Russian military brass and attended the grand military parade in Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany in the Second World War.
The Indian participation in the Victory Day parade marked not only a tribute to the great sacrifices made by Russia and other nations in the Second World War but the significant contribution Indian soldiers had made in the WWII. The highlights that emerged from Mr. Singh’s visit that came in the midst of the escalating border standoff between India and China can be surmised by the participation of a tri-service 75-member Indian military contingent in the Parade where participants from China also participated; the visit also came in the backdrop of the strength and maturity of New Delhi and its policies. The visit also signaled the importance of the special and privileged relationship between India with Russia
Russia is doing a balancing act to defuse the tensions between India and China. It is important for the Russia-India-China format and also for other multilateral ones especially the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS. The Defence Minister held extensive talks with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu and other top officials. Under the bilateral defence agreements; especially related to the S-400 missile defence system and the Russian-origin platforms such as tanks, combat jets and helicopters, India wants an early delivery of these hardware given the rising security threats New Delhi is facing. Mr. Singh requested for delivery through air rather than by ships. It will help in reducing the distance as well as the duration. Russia has agreed and assured India of early deliveries.
Russia had expedited the delivery of certain military hardware to Turkey by airlifting them. Hence, given the special and privileged strategic partnership Moscow shares with India, it should not be a problem to expedite the delivery of the missile defence systems as well as the other strategic military equipment. Significantly, Russia’s current defence contracts with India amounts to $14.5 billion, while with China it is about $2 billion. Given the stress Covid19 has put on the global economy and also America’s keen interest to strengthen its defence ties with India, Moscow would not want to risk its defence business with India.
The visit of the Defence Minister amidst the border challenges between India and China, two of Russia’s strategic partners might have raised speculations that it could put Russia in a tight spot. However, this was not the case. India and Russia though are special and privileged strategic partners; are independent in their relationship with other countries. New Delhi has never taken the help of any other country in its foreign affairs to take a position on any issue.
However, Russia does not want the Indo-China tensions to spiral between its two strategic partners. Moscow hosted the virtual trilateral meeting under the RIC format. The Russian Foreign Minister made it clear that the RIC format should be strengthened. India also put across her views forthrightly in the virtual meeting.
As strategic partners to both India and China, the resolution of tensions is important for Russia, as a lot is in stake; especially in the post-Covid19 situation. RIC is critically linked with the SCO and BRICS and smoothening of Indo-China relationship is important for Russia so that certain countries are not able to take advantage of it. Moscow would not want to create space for the West to intervene and drive a wedge in the trilateral format, as Russia’s focus is to create a multilateral world order and reformed multilateralism.
The visit of the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh once again highlighted the special ties between Indian and Russia. It will be crucial for Moscow to deliver the defence equipments to India expeditiously to bolster the privileged bilateral partnership.
Script: Dr. Indrani Talukdar, Strategic Analyst on Russia