With ongoing debates on Russian-made S-400 deliveries to Turkey, fate of continuing cooperation of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Syria and future of Ankara’s relations with the European Union and NATO, it is high time to make an honest review of Russian-Turkish relations, define weaknesses of bilateral cooperation and try to sketch a framework for a better future. Inspection of historical legacy and nature of current ties may be of big value for those who want to grasp contours of common future. Analysis of existing political constellations in both countries, study of actors who shape or strive to shape bilateral relations and investigation of today’s cases of regional cooperation between Turkey and Russia may further contribute to explaining trajectory of bilateral relations.
During the first years of the Russia–Turkey relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union were defined by views of leaderships that were formed during the Cold war era. In the aftermath of the Independence War, Kemalist regime viewed its ties with the Soviet Union as a political alternative for Ankara’s relations with the European countries. The balanced approach in cooperation with the Soviets was gradually complicated by Moscow’s insistence upon Ataturk to redesign Turkey’s political regime according to the socialist principles. Left-leaning members of the Kemalist establishment came to support this idea.
Relations with Moscow were further marred after 1945 with the USSR threatening to reconsider the Straits regime and change Turkey’s eastern borders. Later, Soviet officials in later did confirm that Stalin’s insistence was a primary reason for Turkey’s decision to ally itself with Western powers. The Soviet Union interpreted Turkish participation in the Marshall plan, membership in the NATO under the Eisenhower Doctrine were as a further step to get security guarantees in face of the Soviet threats. On the other hand, it also prompted Moscow to consider Turkey’s foreign policy as being to a large extent defined by the NATO strategic plans rather than national interests.
The crisis in Turkey’s relations with its traditional allies over the Cyprus issue in 1964 and later in 1974 showed the Soviets that Turkey was increasingly diverging from the western line. The Soviets saw this situation as an opportunity to relaunch contacts with Ankara. From the mid 1970-s, the relations between the USSR and Turkey started gaining their own logic and that was largely expressed in trade, gas, and technology exchange cooperation. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Moscow’s support for the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan, on the other hand, didn’t allow these improvements to gain larger potency.
Gradual transformation from competition to cooperation
It is against this background that bilateral relations were developing in the 1990s. Political elites in both countries were still thinking in terms of bipolar confrontation and felt a lot of distrust towards each other. On the other hand, both countries were experiencing profound difficulty in finding their places in a new world defined by instability around their borders and lack of acceptable set of rules of global political engagement.
Areas that Russian elites viewed as Russia’s traditional sphere of influence were witnessing increased involvement of Western and global players. Growing instability in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Balkans did not allow both countries to reshape their perception of each other and find a common ground. Relations were further complicated by the fact that Russia perceived Turkey as a tool in the hands of Western powers to minimize Russian presence.
With regard to the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkey had very good potential to become a driver of positive political and economic changes. With the fall of the Soviet Union and collapse of bipolar competition Turkey lost its strategic importance in the Western eyes and this fact made Turkish elites look for areas where Turkey could be again an important ally.
By the 1990s it was evident that the countries’ elites were gradually moving from confrontation and competition, concentrating on areas that were mutually benefiting. Two points should be stressed here: this decision was a result of political will and had non-partisan character meaning that this approach enjoyed legitimacy among broader groups of political elites. Secondly, problematic areas in bilateral relations were not resolved or given increased attention but rather mitigated and pushed from the agenda.
Since the later years of the Cold war, certain areas have been pushing both countries to more cooperation and trust. These areas became relevant in the Russia–Turkey relations as well. Trade agreements on gas were a primary area where both countries had a chance to prove themselves as reliable partners. For Turkey, it was important to get stable contracts on gas deliveries for its growing economy during 1990s. For Russia, it was important to have Turkey as a reliable transit partner for its gas supplies to the European markets.
Economic cooperation and increasing mutual interdependence stimulated contacts in other areas, including construction. Turkish companies became especially famous in Russia for their road building technologies, and Russian companies were welcomed in Turkey due to their know-hows in building of large infrastructure objects like factories, dams, channels, or nuclear plants. Further areas included production and manufacture facilities in Russia, especially in culturally affiliated republics like Tatarstan.
It is important to note that since 2000s cooperation in these areas didn’t lead to increasing influence or effectiveness of lobbying among economic groups. Many experts point to the considerable control of formal politics over the business in both countries: with exemption big economic projects like Akkuyu NPP or TurkStream gas pipeline, economic and business ties don’t define political agenda between Turkey and Russia, commercial activity heavily dependent on political decisions and rapport. Although, this is less relevant for Turkish case since in Turkish export to Russia dominate goods and products produced by a large number of smaller local producers.
Predominance of political leadership in channelling of the bilateral relations is another dimension. Heads of state in Turkey and Russia are viewed as key actors who define bilateral relations. This also suggests that relations lack deeper institutionalization despite rich scope of agreements signed in the last 15 years: Moscow and Ankara are struggling to bring bilateral relations onto more stable and rigid foundation, which makes relations susceptible to situational politics. The establishment of the High-Level Cooperation Council in 2010, i.e. 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, shows how slow the progress in this direction really is.
The lack of stable institutional base is coupled with the lack of unity in ideological views on a series of issues dealing with global and regional agendas. Turkey’s foreign policy is defined by personal interests of the country’s leadership, who has been trying to consolidate power within close circle of people loyal to Erdogan. Foreign policy decision-making process in both countries is very personalized: even though bilateral relations are not driven by common values and norms, as in the Turkey–NATO relations in their best years, both Moscow and Ankara may pursue personal political gains.
Nevertheless, it is important to underline that principle shift towards more cooperation may have deeper roots than solely the will of political leadership: rapprochement between Turkey and Russia started in 1997–1998, i.e. before Putin and Erdogan came to power. This observation is further confirmed by the fact that during these years both Ankara and Moscow decided to give up on using Chechen and Kurdish issues to pressure each other in other political questions.
Eurasianism and other groups of influence in Russia–Turkey ties
One of the ideological premises that many observers attribute to bilateral cooperation is the idea of Eurasianism. The concept is widely used in discussions on current state and the future of bilateral relations. The analysis of how elites understand Eurasianism in both countries reveals that there are both commonalities and differences. Russian and Turkish elites tend to view Eurasianism as a suitable ideological semantic tool to express their common desire to put their relations on ideational base. Further commonality includes the idea that Eurasian powers are destined to unite in order to challenge the West or at least to resist the pressure from the Western liberal democracies.
At the same time, there are considerable differences in what the elites understand under Eurasianism. In Russian case, Eurasianism was an ideological tool to protect Russian traditional sphere of influence by bringing local societies together under Russia’s guidance. For Turkish elites, primarily among left-leaning anti-imperialist politicians, Eurasianism is a way to challenge Turkey’s overly serious dependence from the West and to seek support from non-Western powers in resolving existing problems. Eurasianism is also popular among some of pan-Turanists and pan-Turkists, who channel their attention to the geographical regions covered by Eurasian ideology.
It can be said that Eurasianism is supported by small part of political elites in Turkey: after the 1990s, Turkey realized that it has a very limited scope of influence in the core of Eurasia, Central Asia and Russia, meaning that Turkey can be a part of Eurasia, but not its leading power.
Another aspect that defines bilateral relations is the attitudes to power and ability to influence regional politics is also. Both Turkey and Russia can be considered as rising powers who want to redefine rules of game of global and regional politics, established after the Cold war largely without much involvement and contribution of the latter two. These rising power demand recognition as rightful players in global politics. With consolidation of political regimes in Turkey and Russia, elites in both countries are becoming increasingly allergic to Western pressure and criticism and, therefore, tend to counter-balance these challenges by improving their own international stance and by developing closer ties with other rising powers.
Still, it is important to emphasize several crucial points. Eurasianists include very different political groups with different understanding of this ideology itself. In Turkey, the label Eurasianist may unite anti-Western and pro-Russian groups. However, this does not imply that being anti-Western automatically refers to being pro-Russian. On the other hand, the group is attractive for left-leaning activists, even though there are aspects of right ideology of pan-Turanism and pan-Turkism in it.
Another important point is a scope of real influence of the Eurasianists. For decades, the group around Perinçek has managed to consolidate around its political platform many influential former military officers and wage successful media campaigns, their influence and, most importantly, access to the decision-making process remains, however, very limited. The fact that this group failed to prevent escalation between Turkey and Russian right after the jet crisis in November 2015 despite all its mediation efforts and alleged contacts with Russian side may indicate their limited influence on politics in Turkey. The influence of this political group may depend on current reforms of the Armed Forces where Turkish government is trying to establish new rules of the game making it harder for the officers to exert their political influence.
Thirdly, it is important to understand why Perinçek group in Turkey is popular today and enjoys benevolence of the ruling party despite its criticism of the current Turkish foreign policy and domestic policies of the AKP. One way to answer this question is to consider assumption that AKP doesn’t attach to ties with Russia strategic importance, using it merely as an instrument, implying that today’s rapprochement is driven by current international conditions where Turkey is experiencing lack of dialogue with its Western partners and, thus, feels increasingly isolated. On the other hand, it is fair to say as well, that Erdogan may be allowing the Perinçek group as much freedom mainly to communicate to the Russians red lines of cooperation that Turkey may have in many areas of mutual interests like Kurdish issue in Syria.
It is important to mention the role that other groups are playing in formation of bilateral official dialogue, be it negative or positive. Business circles represent the most potent forces that can in theory exert a level of influence. A number of Turkish construction companies like Ant Yapi, Renaissance Construstion, Enka, Limak, Costa Group are working and successfully expand its presence in the Russian market: in 1972–2016 Turkish companies participated in 8755 projects around the world with total value of USD 325 billion among them 1939 projects worth $64.8 billion in the Russian Federation. Naturally, Turkish companies operating in Russia have gained experience in handling with local political establishment and bureaucracy, sometimes engaging in non-transparent business schemes. This laid a foundation for further ties and connections with politicians on federal level.
But still, even if Turkish companies have limited influence in Russia, they are unlikely to have a say in strategic decision-making process, especially on security related issues. This could be seen from their participation in construction of very profitable objects. Russian business circles, with exception of energy and automobile giants like Gazprom, Rosatom, Gaz, is very poorly represented in Turkey and has very limited experience in dealing with Turkish clients with their own cultural specifics.
Another group that can influence bilateral relations are ethnic minorities. Historically, Turkey hosted refugees and emigrants from Russian Empire, Soviet Union and later Russian Federation. Today, groups like Crimean Tatars, Circassians, North Caucasian diasporas influence public opinion on Russia in Turkey, though their activity is limited due do strict Turkish nationalism and firm grip of current ruling party on media and public demonstrations. These groups may find themselves in the center of new frictions between Russia and Turkey, especially considering the ongoing migration of foreign fighters from Syria back to Turkey and Western Ukraine. Religious groups like South Caucasian Salafist networks still can pose a danger to Russian national security from Turkey thought its presence in Georgia and western Ukraine. Existence of sympathizers to the groups’ cause among Turkish bureaucracy may further complicate Russian-Turkish rapprochement and attempts to strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation.
The role of the West and third countries in dynamics of bilateral relations
Russia and Turkey perceive bilateral cooperation over gas supplies and Akkuyu nuclear plant as almost an ideal platform to improve their negotiating positions vis-à-vis the European Union. For Turkey, better terms for gas deliveries from Russia and Russian assistance in building of the nuclear facilities have direct implications for the long-term economic development plans, as Turkish government is expecting a rise in energy demands. On the other hand, Russia gets stable revenues from its exports to Turkey, a good asset for its budget stability in times of Western sanctions and pressures on domestic economic plans. All of this indicates that economic cooperation contributes to advancement of their negotiating positions via-a-vis Europe and the US.
By the same token, Russia has been using Turkey’s support on multiple issues as a very effective asset in its own competition against the NATO. For Russian elites, Turkey’s independence from the Western alliance is very important. A number of Turkish experts emphasized the fact that Turkey didn’t join Western sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014.
While both leading actors want to gain more influence in the global politics, this transformation, however, will not come without problems for bilateral relations. Turkish elites seem to have accepted the fact that without considerable Western backing Turkey has very limited room for action in the Central Asia. This approach is further nuanced by claims that Turkey is aware that its relations with Russia are uneven, especially in military and diplomatic terms, therefore, when and where possible, Ankara would like to counteract Russian dominance through soft-balancing, expanding discussions of NATO–Turkey cooperation, for example, in Georgia or Azerbaijan. Russian military build-up in the Black Sea is also causing concerns in Turkey. This claim can be related to the ongoing efforts of the Turkish government to increase navy capacities in territorial waters.
Another interesting point in terms of influence of the third parties in the bilateral relations is the role of the Central Asian leaders in this process. These leaders are forced to mediate between the two because of their political reliance on Russia and cultural affinity to Turkey. There are, however, tendencies in Russian policies to minimize Turkic solidarity with Turkey among Russian Turkic communities.
Informal dimension of bilateral relations
Despite political elites’ vocal support for and visible official efforts to strengthen non-official bilateral ties, connections between private parties, NGOs, and academia exert limited influence on official relations between Russia and Turkey. Primary reason behind this lies in systemic position of civil society in decision-making process in each country. According to experts, scholars, who make research on bilateral relations, often lack necessary linguistic skills. There is still ideological bias in many academic circles, both in Russia and Turkey as well. For example, sometimes, scholars, who write on bilateral relations, do it in a form to confirm their personal, professional, political loyalty to institutions or movements, meaning that the scope and tone of analysis may eventually change according to the agenda. That is why many Turkish or Russian speaking scholar prefer engaging in history and culture studies rather than doing research on current political affairs. There are problems of insufficient funding and institutionalization between academia in Turkey and Russia as well.
Civil war in Syria
Nowadays, Russia seems to be rediscovering itself as a global power again. Russian elites are eagerly engaged in the Middle East, and state-supported energy and military companies increase their impact in the regional political landscape. On the other hand, Middle East became by the matter of choice an area of foreign policy activism of Turkish elites.The AKP government has been increasing gaining self-confidence in dealing with regional issues, possibly, hoping that cultural and geographical proximity to local population may be translated into real life political and economic gains for Turkey.
Syria was possibly the prime example of recent regional activism of Turkey, but civil war changed this approach with rising instability threatening Turkish security and coming of many new global and regional players in the conflict. The problem for the Russian-Turkish relations is that Syria turned out to be an area where Russian and Turkish interests clashed. But eventually increasing number of challenges transformed foreign policy dynamics in Turkey, and securitization of the process led to re-evalutation of priorities, where closer contacts with Russia became to be seen as one of the channels to enhance security situation on Turkish borders. Moscow positively reacted to Turkish concerns over the PKK/Kurdish issues, seeing them as a legitimate topic of discussions with Turkey.
As far as we can see today, Turkish elites are trying to adapt to new realities by getting used to Russian presence. Watching NATO allies increasingly abandon Ankara, Turkish elites are trying to become more active in broadening areas of cooperation with Russia and Iran. Judging by the lessons from the past, Turkey and Russia are able to find a common solution and acknowledge their corresponding legitimate interests and concerns. Turkey’s cooperation with Russia is a tactical phenomenon that was caused by Western partners’ inability to show solidarity on many occasions and to act against Russia.
Differences over political issues like the fate of Assad’s regime or scope of rights for Kurds may be pushed from the agenda in the mid-term, allowing bilateral cooperation on Syria to be focused on economic matters like reconstruction, trade, energy projects. These are the areas that are important for Russian plans to rebuild Syria and that Turkey can be interested in as well. Still, Turkey would like to keep supporting opposition, because, otherwise it would have to deal with Assad through Russian mediation therefore falling into more dependence on Moscow.
Even though one may witness rapid development of political ties between Turkey and Russia in recent years, relations are not immune to unforeseeable shocks. Heavy accent on political dialogue, political connections and consultations between the governments may be of great importance in general, but at times reveal that it is insufficient for development of full-fledged relations. Today’s cooperation between Moscow and Ankara in Syria serves as a good platform for both to test their political trust and to learn to listen to each other’s concerns, which so far have been largely ignored or pushed out of the agenda. Despite current existing moods in Europe and the United States on Turkey planning to leave the NATO, analysis of historical legacy and present situation in the world suggest that Turkey neither would prefer nor would afford to leave the Western security and political structures. On the other hand, Turkey’s rapprochement with the West would not be necessarily against interests of Russia. Interconnectedness of Turkey with Europe and USA may be of good utility for Russian global foreign policy. Current positive dialogue, however, should be used to include non-state non-official players and give them space to direct and shape bilateral relations. Their presence and contribution would be a best guarantee against political fluctuations which we will definitely witness in the future.
First published in our partner RIAC
Russia Readies to Host XII BRICS Summit
Under Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship 2020, President Vladimir Putin will host Heads of State of Brazil, China, India and South Africa via videoconference on 17 November. Initially planned to take place in St. Petersburg in July, it was cancelled due to current coronavirus pandemic.
The leaders will discuss the strengthening and further development of cooperation within the framework of BRICS, including in the context of the global political and socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the leaders will focus on significant and complicated issues or questions relating to geopolitical to socioeconomic spheres, transformations on the global landscapes in the 21st century. The meeting will adopt a working document that will further reinforce the position and development of the group.
As stipulated by the guidelines, Russia took over the rotating presidency of the BRICS from Brazil. Since its establishment, BRICS has come a long way from an informal venue for exchanging views on current issues on the international agenda to an absolutely mature and stable network of multilateral interaction on diverse issues on international and domestic agenda of the five BRICS countries.
Now BRICS has a multilateral structure, and become an association pushing for fair, democratic and multipolar world order. Russia has agreed to strengthen and promote strategic partnership in all key areas of BRICS activities, such as politics and security, the economy and finance, educational and cultural ties.
The theme of the Meeting of the Leaders of BRICS is “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth.” They will discuss the enhancement of their countries’ trade and economic collaboration and coordination at international stage or platforms.
It plans to end its chairmanship with a strong set of new agreements, including the already agreed upon BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy and the updated Strategy for Economic Partnership to 2025. This document defines guidelines and priorities of cooperation and gives a new impetus to development of trade and investment cooperation among the five countries.
It further provides a number of initiatives to strengthen sector-specific cooperation among the members. The people-to-people and cultural ties, as well as contacts between experts and civil society representatives are already expanding.
Despite the current global situation due to the spread of the coronavirus infection, the activities under the Russian BRICS Chairmanship in 2020 have been carried out in a consistent manner. Since January 2020, a number of events have already been organized, including via videoconferencing.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reiterated that deepening the strategic partnership in BRICS is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities.
Over the past decade, the group has proved to be a relevant and well-respected format of cooperation. The BRICS countries maintain solidarity in strengthening collective principles in global affairs; they advocate respect for the sovereignty and sovereign equality of all states, and are deeply convinced that any conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means only.
The group collectively defends the principles of a more just world order based on respect for the norms and principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.
According to procedure, each BRICS member takes over the chairmanship for a year. Russia last chaired BRICS in 2015, held a summit in the provincial city of Ufa. Russia also presided over the group back in 2009, before BRIC turned into BRICS following South Africa’s accession. The five BRICS countries together represent over 3.1 billion people, or about 40 percent of the world population.
The 2000 Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and Russia
On October 3, 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Vladimir Putin cemented India-Russia bilateral ties with the signing of the historical agreement, the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership.” Two decades since the signing of the agreement, bilateral relations are hailed to have chartered new levels of cooperation amid fast changing regional and global scenarios. While shouldering mutual interests and concerns, the strategic partnership has been at the cusp of litmus test, as it has endured events such as the 9/11 terrorist attack, colour revolutions, the Georgian War, the economic depression in 2008, the 26/11 Mumbai attack, the Crimean referendum and its aftermath and the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore worth reflecting on the two decades of a seemingly positive bilateral engagement between India and Russia. It is important to analyse how the agreement signed in 2000 has played a role in the continuum of ensuring the mutual understanding, peaceful cooperation and reliability between the two strategic partners. This is also an opportunity to critically evaluate the magnitude of our strategic relationship and the changes in the foreign policy priorities since 2000. Given the current global context, the key question is how prepared are India and Russia for insulating the strategic partnership amid the challenges in the post pandemic world?
The Declaration of Strategic Partnership (2000) was signed at a time when the momentum in the bilateral relations between India and Russia post-Soviet collapse had fatigued due to several factors. But the most crucial factor of them all was the renewal of the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1993. The renewed 1993 Treaty had almost written off the bilateral engagement, as Russia clarified that it was no longer willing to make any defence commitment during the time of any external military threat to India – a key security clause (Article IX) that constituted the very core of the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty.
The Strategic Partnership Treaty signed in 2000 gave a new lease of life as it restored India-Russia relations to respectable levels.Both the countries realised the need to develop a multifaceted bilateral cooperation in all possible spheres of defence, energy, space, nuclear, science and technology etc. India’s strategic partnership with Russia since then has been unique, intense and substantive in many ways. Mainly, the Treaty led to the institutionalization of high level political interactions through annual bilateral summits – a key feature of the agreement to foster extensive collaboration and dynamism in the partnership. The twenty annual bilateral summits held so far between India and Russia have in particular seen major agreements and initiatives undertaken to strengthen the partnership to higher levels.
Additionally, in 2010, the bilateral ties were further elevated with the signing of the “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.” Arguably, the partnership between the two countries has been successfully reflected in many instances at regional and global platforms. India, along with BRICS member states, abstaining its vote during the United Nations General Assembly referendum against Russia for its accession of Crimea in 2014 and Russia’s unequivocal support to India on the Kashmir issue are few cases in point.
Regarding strategic partnership in sensitive spheres of cooperation between India and Russia, defence cooperation continues to be one of the major boosters for engagement between the two countries. India has acknowledged Russia’s contribution in assisting the former in military power projection and preserving its national security interests. Although in recent times there is downgrading in the purchase of Russian defence equipment by India, the cooperation in this sphere has been unassailable given that it has progressed from buyer-seller relations to joint research development and production, high-end technology transfer that has encouraged India’s quest for indigenous defence capabilities. From the induction of INS Vikramaditya to the joint production of BrahMos missile, India-Russia defence cooperation has achieved new capacities through acquisitions and joint development. In fact, Russia’s resurgence as a military power in recent times is conducive to India’s domestic initiatives such as the Make in India project. The finalising of the S-400 missile defence system agreement between India and Russia despite the threat of imposition of CAATSA sanctions has shown India’s predictable resistance to external pressures given its historical ties with Russia.
Indo-Russian nuclear cooperation constitutes an important element of our strategic partnership. The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) has become one of the biggest success stories of India-Russia cooperation. As Unit 1 and Unit 2 start commercial operation, the process for reactor buildings of Units 3 and 4 have already begun. With the construction of 12 nuclear power plants planned, India-Russia nuclear cooperation has indeed reached new heights. India, Russia and Bangladesh signed a trilateral agreement in March 2018, for the construction of a NPP in Rooppur, Bangladesh.
Energy diplomacy has been another major element of the strategic partnership, since Russia, an export-oriented energy country, will aim to leverage its energy card with India, an import-oriented energy market. India’s interests in the Arctic, for instance, especially energy resources, are a crucial aspect for India’s growing energy security needs. India received its very first delivery from Russia’s Arctic LNG Plant. This is seen as a great step towards strengthening India-Russia energy cooperation.
The bilateral partnership, which has a global strategic connotation, has seen both the countries enthusiastically promote the idea of building a multipolar world order and changing the global financial structure. In this regard, both India and Russia have envisaged promoting a harmonious global order based on international law and collective decision-making that includes developing countries and is not monopolised by developed countries alone. India and Russia, along with other players such as China, have succeeded in establishing non-western organisations such as BRICS and SCO. The member states have, within their capabilities and limitations, established mechanisms that address economic and strategic interests, such as the New Development Bank. While BRICS and SCO have become tools of political signalling on issues related to global affairs, there however exist asymmetries among the member states with regard to economic growth performance, distribution of resources and military strength. Additionally, although China is a member of such multilateral organisations, at the individual level Beijing has exercised assertive posturing that has caused concern in India. This can be seen by its irrational border claims and actions in the Indian Ocean region. The role of Russia especially during the time of crisis between India and China is therefore anticipated to be non-partisan and meaningful.
When the Treaty of Strategic Partnership was signed in 2000, the world was at the brink of a war on terrorism after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. Both India and Russia, at their respective level, joined the bandwagon on the global war on terror. Both parties, as bilateral partners which have been victims of terrorist attacks, voiced their interests and concerns in combating terrorism and related activities. India and Russia have therefore cooperated at bilateral and multilateral levels. For instance, through Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, SCO member states participate in joint anti-terrorism exercises. India and Russia also share the mutual interest of preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their possible acquisition by terrorist groups.
While both India and Russia assert their distinctive identity in world politics respectively, the strategic partnership has seen close coordination of foreign policy interests to a wide range of international and regional issues. Both countries firmly believe that intensification of the Indo-Russian strategic partnership can help respond to the challenges thrown up by global changes in a more effective way. While both India and Russia have a diverging approach on the Indo-Pacific narrative, one cannot deny that the two countries understand the need for strengthening maritime security and freedom of navigation in accordance with the universally accepted principles of international law. This includes combating piracy at sea and providing humanitarian aid during natural disasters. The two countries have shown keen interest in restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan. Eurasian integration has been a key priority in the India-Russia strategic partnership. Russia understands that in its quest for “greater Eurasia,” India is a vital player for its huge market potential, economic growth performance, military strength and enhanced position in international affairs.
Strategic partnership in space, science and technology has been a bulwark in the bilateral relations between India and Russia since the Soviet era and has continued to remain one even today. In fact, both countries have agreed to expand their relations in the aerospace sphere, an area of traditional cooperation for decades. More than 500 joint projects involving scientists and research institutes from both countries have been undertaken within the framework of various initiatives since 2000.
While critically evaluating the two decades of strategic partnership between India and Russia, it is tempting to compare India’s strategic partnership with other major global players and the strategic partnership that it shares with Russia. The new realities of the dynamic nature of international relations have definitely posed a challenge to the partnership. The pursuing of an all-alignment foreign policy has caused a certain level of discomfort in the bilateral relations. India’s growing proximity with the U.S. and Russia’s compromised defence cooperation with China and mending of ties with Pakistan in recent times has caused anxiety in the strategic partnership between India and Russia. One possible inference that one can draw is the constant comparison to the current India-Russia partnership with that of the nostalgia of Indo-Soviet ties. But one needs to bear in mind that compared to the strategic partnership that both India and Russia share with other major players, there are limitations and shrouded with lack of trust. India’s defence relations with U.S., for instance, is yet to make any substantive development in joint production and restrictiveness about its technology compared to Russia’s generosity to sharing defence technology and Russia’s relations with Pakistan is eclipsed with lack of trust and understanding. As for Russia-China relations, there is growing speculation of a possible role reversal in the partnership given China’s growth in global politics in recent times.
However, there are few stumbling blocks in India-Russia defence cooperation, especially the shifting trends in partnership, for example defence engagement between Russia and China. Russia’s current cooperation with China has emerged exclusively, as it includes cooperation in sensitive fields, such as strategic missile defence, hypersonic technology, and the construction of nuclear submarines. With Russia now collaborating with China on sensitive military equipment, allowing for the latter to be well equipped with similar and more advanced capabilities, China is a major security concern for India. Hence, given the way warfare has evolved over the years, collaboration in advanced future weapon systems, including quantum technology and artificial intelligence, should be enhanced further between India and Russia.
Indo-Russian relations are undoubtedly at the cusp of a litmus test. Nonetheless, the strategic partnership should see the future of Asia beyond the U.S. and China factors, and both India and Russia can play a decisive role in promoting their mutual interests in the region.
The rapid and uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 in the past seven months has impacted the global order and the interconnected systems. Reflecting the spirit of the partnership in times of crisis, India coordinated with Russia in organising the repatriation of Russian nationals. Russia also welcomed India’s goodwill gesture to send medical supplies to help fight the virus.
Critics have often pointed out that the strategic partnership is yet to achieve its full potential, given the fact that some of the spheres of cooperation continue to be remain obsolete, for instance, the economic relations. Additionally, given nearly 70 years of diplomatic relations, soft power capabilities, cultural diplomacy, academic exchange programmes, and labour migration are at an imperceptible status.
Trade and investment remains the weakest link in our strategic partnership and falls far short of our potential, which unfortunately is not commensurate with our high-level political cooperation. Post the announcement of the Strategic Agreement in 2000, which largely promotes the strengthening of economic relations between India and Russia, the trade cart received much required upgrade. Potential areas of trade have been explored, which include trade and investment, energy, nuclear, science and technology, pharmaceuticals, IT, steel, diamonds, fertilizers, infrastructure, heavy engineering and food products. Exploring economic prosperity, sustainable development, and free movement of people, information, knowledge, ideas and greater institutional links has also become crucial.
In fact, both countries have set a target of $30 billion worth of trade turnover and $30 billion investment in each other’s country by the year 2025. It is also heartening that new options are being explored to further expand the domain of economic cooperation, Eurasian integrity, regional cooperation, free trade agreements, connectivity and trade corridors have gained the utmost importance in the annual bilateral summits in the past two decades. The two countries have also set up mechanisms such as Intergovernmental Commissions. For example, Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), the International North South Transport Corridor and the Eurasian Economic Union, which have emerged as immediate priority areas for strong economic cooperation between the two countries.
The Russian Far-East is another region for potential economic engagement. India’s presence in the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) is aimed at developing trade, commerce, investment, railway infrastructure, steel plants, defence, space, ports and shipping. India has successfully participated in the annual EEF, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for an “Act Far East” policy and announcing $1 billion line of credit for the development of the Far East. Other than these developments, our economic ties are focused on exploring the potential of sub-regional cooperation. Sub-regional cooperation has emerged as one of the prospective areas of cooperation and regional connectivity to add further impetus to the economic cooperation between India and Russia. The key goal is to cement and institutionalise cooperation between the States and Union Territories of the Republic of India and Provinces of the Russian Federation.
To further bolster India’s FAR ambitions, an Indian Chief Ministers delegation of four Indian states led by the Commerce and Industry Minister of India Piyush Goyal visited Vladivostok to explore the opportunities and potential of business to business (B2B) cooperation in the FAR. With the introduction of the Russian Homestead Act and India being host to one of the largest agricultural farmers’ immigration in the world, the need for both India and Russia to tap the potentials of agricultural sector is crucial. Regional connectivity needs due attention, hence the successful execution of alternative economic corridors and maritime trade corridors, such as Chennai-Vladivostok, needs prompt engagement.
The major impact of the pandemic has prompted countries to explore alternate market destinations and shifts in the business environment. The crisis has opened opportunities for countries such as India and Russia to reposition themselves in the global supply chain. Russia, with its efforts to attract investment to the Far East, and India, with its huge manpower and existing available manufacturing units, should be endorsed as potential and suitable alternatives for manufacturing, instead of developed nations.
Despite the seemingly successful bilateral relations between India and Russia, the strategic community is incomplete if there is shortfall in establishing strong people-to-people engagement. Since the Soviet collapse, bilateral relations have seen minimal cultural diplomacy, academic exchange and labour migration. Perhaps new vistas of cooperation could be explored to promote soft power capabilities between the two countries, such as cinema, which has always been one of the most successful foreign policy tools to enhance cultural exchange and people-to-people contact between countries.
The film industry is a great medium for spreading narratives, and in India movies have an immense following as well as impact on the minds of the population. India and Russia collaborated in movie production during the Soviet era, however, the trend did not last long due to the fall of the Soviet Union, among other factors. The time is right for both India and Russia to collaborate in the entertainment industry, especially through joint production of movies and creating powerful narratives related to bilateral cooperation. India and Russia must concentrate more on the content of the movie rather than joint production alone, as for the audience the content matters more than the producer. Moreover, it can have an everlasting impact on the minds of the Indian population if the content projects a Russian character aiding/collaborating with an Indian protagonist in a movie in bringing down an antagonist. Also, the Indian movie industry is always on the look for exotic locations in foreign lands. Hence, in order to attract the Indian movie industry, Russia could look into easing travel and other shooting permissions within its jurisdictions. Such an effort would not only bring closer industry ties, but also be able to showcase the Russia and its rich culture to the Indian population, thereby acting as a window of promotion for Russian tourism.
Regarding geopolitical realignment, today the global community is seeking pragmatic internationalism. The role of India and Russia is crucial in their efforts to diffuse the multipolar world system. This is also relevant for regional alliances to actively engage politically and economically, which should help bilateral relations between the two countries elevate to a higher pedestal in post-pandemic world order.
The current global situation has given rise to some daunting challenges for the partnership once again. Some of the challenges in the post pandemic world are linked to the disruptions being caused to the international order by traditional and non-traditional threats such as climate change, cyber security, health security, data protection, secure communication challenges etc. Nurturing hopes for stability and prosperity in Eurasia in the post pandemic world, bilateral relations between India and Russia and their proactive role in regional mechanisms such as SCO, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and Russia-India-China (RIC) are viewed as an integral part of this construct. Regional connectivity needs due attention including the successful execution of alternative economic corridors and maritime trade corridors.
In conclusion, the signing of the milestone agreement in 2000 was the outcome of developments that took place in bilateral relations between India and Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The main aim of the agreement was to elevate the partnership to new level of cooperation and put speculations and uncertainties in the relationship to rest. Over the past twenty years of relations, the partnership has seen many ups and downs. Nonetheless, this has not allowed any major damage that could impact or lead to any serious conflict of interest between the two countries. Having said that, the coveted relations built over the years cannot be taken for granted. In this regard, apart from political elites and bureaucrats playing a crucial role in enhancing the relations, academicians, artists, students, the research community, think tanks and educational institutions should contribute to forming the true essence of the partnership. The youth, in particular, need to draw inspiration from each other’s rich history and cultural relevance, carrying forward the vision for a long-term partnership. The engagement of both countries in the international ecosystem in the post pandemic world has become even more relevant, as it has given rise to new challenges and opportunities. The strategic partnership between India and Russia nevertheless needs to insulate the mutual interests from challenges that emerge from within and from external factors. Perhaps, the need for a reality check and serious introspection will be crucial as the challenges are only set to grow given the dynamism of international relations.
From our partner RIAC
United States, Russia or China: The Struggle for Global Superpower
Despite its large population of 1.5 billion which many have considered as an impediment, China’s domestic economic reforms and collaborative strategic diplomacy with external countries have made it attain superpower status over the United States. While United States influence is rapidly fading away, China has indeed taken up both the challenges and unique opportunities to strengthen, especially its economic muscles.
On October 22, Vladimir Putin took part, via videoconference, in the final plenary session of the 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. The Valdai Discussion Club was established in 2004, with a goal is to promote dialogue between Russian and international intellectual elite, and to make an independent, unbiased scientific analysis of political, economic and social events in Russia and the rest of the world.
Putin touched on a wide range of different issues. What particularly interesting was his assessment of the changing politics and the economy, and rating of the global superpower. “The world has changed several times. Meanwhile, time increasingly and insistently makes us question what lies ahead for humanity,” he said during his interactive speech with the participants.
In effect, the post-war world order was established by three victorious countries: the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. The role of Britain has changed since then; the Soviet Union no longer exists, while some try to dismiss Russia altogether, according to Putin.
Indeed, the Soviet Union is no longer there. But there is Russia. In terms of its economic weight and political influence, China is moving quickly towards superpower status. Germany is moving in the same direction, and the Federal Republic of Germany has become an important player in international cooperation. At the same time, the roles of Great Britain and France in international affairs has undergone significant changes, he further explained.
The United States, which at some point absolutely dominated the international stage, can hardly claim exceptionality any longer. Generally speaking, does the United States need this exceptionalism? he asked rhetorically, and further cited that powerhouses such as Brazil, South Africa and some other countries have become much more influential in the world.
Amid the current fragmentation of international affairs, there are challenges that require more than just the combined capacity of a few states, even very influential ones. Problems of this magnitude, which do exist, require global attention. International stability, security, fighting terrorism and solving urgent regional conflicts are certainly among them; as are promoting global economic development, combating poverty, and expanding cooperation in healthcare. That last one is especially relevant today.
Arguably, China has worked on all that is now recorded as its grandiose achievements. It has systematically transformed its economy at the same time, maintained the political structure. Its major cities and coastal areas are far more prosperous compared to rural and interior regions. It brought more people out of extreme poverty than any other country in history. China reduced extreme poverty by 800 million.
As expected of any development process, there are still problems. Nonetheless, the level of public support for the government and its management of the country is high, with 80 – 95% of Chinese citizens expressing satisfaction with the central government, according to a 2019 survey.
That compared with Russia, Putin explained that Russia has to begin from the scratch. Lenin spoke about the birthmarks of capitalism, he reminded, and added that “It cannot be said that we have lived these past 30 years in a full-fledged market economy. In fact, we are only gradually building it, and its institutions. Russia had to do it from the ground up, starting from a clean slate. Of course, we are doing this, taking into consideration, developments around the world. After all, after almost one hundred years of a state-planned economy, transitioning to a market economy is not easy.”
On other way round, it is necessary to take a closer look at, in fact a complete insight into the approach, economic capability and the services by the Chinese. China has such a diverse landscape, with investment and trade around the world. According to the World Bank, China has the largest economy and one of the world’s foremost infrastructural giants. China is the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods.
China holds 17.7% of the world’s total wealth, the second largest share held by any country. It has the world’s largest banking sector, with assets of $40 trillion and the world’s top 4 largest banks all being in China. In 2019, China overtook the US as the home to the highest number of rich people in the world, according to the global wealth report by Credit Suisse. It has the highest number of rich people in the world’s top 10% of wealth since 2019. There were 658 Chinese billionaires and 3.5 million millionaires.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative has expanded significantly over the last six years and, as of April 2020, includes 138 countries and 30 international organization. Along with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, China is a member of the BRICS group of emerging major economies.
In recent years, the country has significantly strengthened bilateral ties with Asian countries such as China and India, with Latin American countries. An important aspect of Russia’s relations with the West is the criticism of Russia’s political system and over human rights. On the other hand, Putin’s leadership over the return of order, stability, and progress has won him widespread admiration.
After the United States, the European Union and other countries imposed economic sanctions after the annexation of Crimea and a collapse in oil prices, the proportion of middle-class could decrease drastically.
The population moves forth and back, Russia has to support its economy with increasing population. Since 2006, the Russian government started simplifying immigration laws and launched a state program for providing assistance to voluntary immigration of ethnic Russians from former Soviet republics. In one of his previous speeches, Putin declared that Russia’s population could reach 146 million by 2025, mainly as a result of immigration.
Sprawling from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, Russia has more than a fifth of the world’s forests, which makes it the largest forest country in the world. With it’s extensive mineral and energy resources, Russia is a major great power and has the potential to become a superpower. Russia can regain part of its Soviet era economic power and political influence around the world.
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