NEW DELHI: Finally, India’s relations with Russia. They have a long history going back to the 1950s, when Russia (then the Soviet Union) played a significant role in India’s economic development and defence.

Strategic relations between the two countries continue to be important, though difficulties have surfaced during the last few years, mainly on account of India’s growing ties with the US.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Putin met for their annual summit in Goa, India, in Oct. 2016, on the margins of the BRICS annual summit, hosted by India. Sixteen agreements were signed between India and Russia in a wide range of areas.

Russia agreed to sell five S-400 missile defence systems to India. The two sides also agreed to jointly produce 200 Kamov helicopters in India. The total value of the deals amounts to $10 billion.

With India becoming a full member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the two countries announced in November that they had agreed to double the range of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to 600 km, making it more lethal.

To sum up, while India’s relations with the US strengthened in 2016, her relations with Russia witnessed some turbulence, mainly because of developments in India-US, Russia-China, and Russia-Pakistan relations.

As for India’s relations with China and Pakistan, they deteriorated, not because of anything that India had done, but because of what they had done.

India’s foreign policy priorities in 2017 will have to be determined against the background of the developments outlined above.

First, it is important to restore India-Russia relations to their traditional warmth. Russia is upset with India’s growing closeness to the US, at a time when Russia-US relations are deteriorating rapidly, mainly because of US policies in Syria, Ukraine, and Europe. Russophobia has increased in the US during the last couple of years, for no fault of Russia.

India needs to be more careful about its embrace of the US, which is not a dependable partner when required, in contrast to Russia, which has a long track record of helping India in times of need. Russia needs reassurance that India has not joined the US camp [which includes the EU], which is targeting Russia, and even Putin personally.

If this is not done, Russia will continue to strengthen its relations with Pakistan, by selling it weapons and conducting joint military exercises, etc.

Another reason for growing Russia-Pakistan relations is China, which is pushing Russia closer to Pakistan. The three countries are currently coordinating policy on Afghanistan. There is not much that India can or should do in this regard. Let the Russians interact with Pakistan as much as they like.

It will not take Russia very long to find out how reliable an ally Pakistan is. Ask Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan President, who was once its admirer. If still not convinced, ask the US.

Unfortunately, the US is responsible for driving Russia into the arms of China by demonizing it in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere. This is not India’s fault, and it is not clear if India can do anything about it, except cautioning Putin that China is an irredentist and expansionist power, which is also thoroughly unscrupulous.

Has Russia forgotten the 1969 Ussuri River incident or the 1979 Chinese invasion of Vietnam?

Second, India needs to do something about China’s growing belligerence and its support for Pakistani terrorism. To begin with, India should stop getting excited and flattered by inane statements such as, “China and India can together change the world” etc. Such statements are meaningless and only help to create a false sense of security in India.

India should vigorously protest against unacceptable Chinese actions such as protection to Masood Azhar, and not miss any opportunity to undermine China’s influence in South East Asia. Countries in that region want India to contain China, just as China is doing everything possible to contain India.

In this context, India must supply the weapons that Vietnam has asked for, particularly the BrahMos. It is long overdue,

India must also review its Taiwan policy which is hopelessly outdated. It is important for India to develop relations with that country, which is eager to do so. Why are we not reciprocating? Especially now, when Trump has set the cat amongst the pigeons by speaking to the Taiwanese President.

India needs to explore possibilities of undermining the CPEC, which traverses Indian territory—the POK. Balochistan is another area which is crying out for Indian attention. Political asylum and Indian citizenship should be given to Brahamdagh Bugti, who has applied for it.

And then there is Tibet, the card that India has never played. It would be a folly to ignore it. How and when it can be played is for the experts to figure out.

Third, India’s approach to Pakistan should be two-pronged. All necessary security steps should be taken to ensure that incidents such as Pathankot, Uri, and Nagrota do not happen. Security around our military installations should be tightened.

Also, there is no need to talk to Pakistan till that country stops exporting terror to India. Talks and terrorism do not go together. And no meetings should be permitted between visiting Pak dignitaries and separatists in Delhi.

India also needs to utilize its full share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty. If that does not improve Pakistani behaviour, a review of the treaty could be explored. India should withdraw all unilateral concessions extended to Pakistan so far. Bilateral concessions should be strictly transactional.

Finally, relations with the US should be periodically reviewed and carefully calibrated, so that they don’t spill over into India’s other important relationships, such as those with Russia.

The US is currently involved in the wars and unrest in Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen. India will have to make sure that the LEMOA is not misused for fighting these and other wars in the future, such as a war against Iran.

These suggestions should be debated thoroughly by policymakers so that wrinkles can be ironed out.

What emerges from that debate should constitute India’s foreign policy priorities for 2017.


(Ambassador Niraj Srivastava is retired from the Indian Foreign Service)