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
Any “red lines” left for Putin?
“Red lines” have become a ubiquitous narrative of Russian-initiated conflict with the West. Putin repeatedly used “red lines” as a warning metaphor for the West, trying to establish his boundaries of international influence. The “red lines” acquired this warning connotation in his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly on April 21, 2021, to be repeated several times later up to February 24, 2022. As explained by his press-secretary Dmitriy Peskov and many other Russian politicians and experts, “red lines’ relate to Russian national interests, outlining its national borders.
And not only Kremlin but the West also talks about “red lines”, though the West sees “red lines” in using nuclear weapons by Putin in his futile attempt to conquer Ukraine.
When addressing the nation on February 24, 2022, announcing an invasion of Ukraine, Putin said that any “interference” in Ukraine by outside powers would be “a red line” for Russia. However, the West started to support Ukraine long before the Russian invasion supplying Javelins and intelligence information. The West certainly interfered in different ways from the first day of the Russian invasion providing more weapons, ammunition, humanitarian aid, volunteers, anti-Russian information campaigns, sanctions, intelligence sharing, and military training, to name a few.
All Kremlin’s propaganda targets the inner audience first. When they speak to the West, at the same time, they address ordinary Russians. The apparent importance of “red lines” for the Kremlin, the ability to show that they are not violated, made the West artfully create information campaigns before supplying new deadly weaponry to Ukraine. These information campaigns aim to provide valid arguments for such supplies as a response to the escalation of the war from the Kremlin’s side. At the same time, they shift attention from the weaponry itself to “conflicts” inside the NATO countries around the supplies. They expose various technical problems, such as a lack of trained personnel to master new weaponry, no service maintenance base, and others. Finally, these information campaigns often highlight Kremlin’s atrocities against civilians (Bucha and missile bombing cities, villages, and critical infrastructure).
We have seen these tactics successfully employed more than once. The Kremlin’s loss of information war has become evident from the beginning of the war. However, when one talks about supplying Ukraine with modern tanks to fight against the Russian army, it takes one to be a master of information tactics to supply the tanks and not to break this crucial “red line.” For the last two decades, Putin has made the Victory of the USSR in the Greta Patriotic War (WW II in the Western tradition) the main achievement of recent Russian history, utilizing it as a unifying myth for multi-national Russia. This myth also serves as a justification for its aggressive foreign policy. Furthermore, this makes it very painful for Russia to think of fighting with foreign tanks, especially german tanks, making this red line very thick and visible.
Nevertheless, the West could dilute it without any seemingly essential consequences. Let’s see how it was done.
The German play: at first, Olaf Sholz, Chancellor of Germany, said that Germany would allow Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine only after US Abrams; this statement gets immediately refuted by the German Minister of Defense; the refutation followed by supporting statements in the US media that even go as far as saying that the German position irritates Washington.
The Polish play: first, Poland says that it can send a Leopard tank to Ukraine; then it refutes it; then Poland threatens that it would send the tanks even without Germany’s consent, to be followed by a statement of Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs that Germany would not block Poland sending tanks to Ukraine.
All these “conflicts and disaccords” happen before an official decision-making session in Rammstein format. Then the plays continued with Boris Pistorius, recently appointed Germany’s Minister of Defense, who, after the meeting at Rammstein, not only said that there were other countries besides Germany to disagree on shipping tanks to Ukraine (although he never revealed which ones), but also hinting later that the decision on tank shipping could be negative. In such a case, the decision would become irreversible. They even remembered a previous German Minister of Defense who allegedly refused to conduct an inventory of available Leopard tanks.
Less than five days later, a positive decision is taken, making it hard to believe that such significant disagreements and confusion could exist not only inside Germany’s government but also between leading European countries and the US. Of course, conflicts and disagreements might exist, and they do exist for different international topics. However, it is hard to imagine them being so publicly visible on such a vital issue as the Ukraine-Russia war. The war has been going on for almost a year now, and effective mechanisms of communication and decision-making must have been developed, at least in such an essential part of it as military aid.
After the war’s beginning, the West took a principal position in the war: to provide diverse support to Ukraine to fight against Russia. All sanctions and humanitarian and military aid issues get communicated, coordinated, and then agreed upon.
According to Francis Bacon’s famous quotation, knowledge is power; this power comes with information, and information comes with noise. The West utterly understands it employing this understanding with art and craft. And the Kremlin fails to play this game. Instead, this wonderful chaos of noise prior to any critical decision allows for diluting more and more “red lines.”
These information tactics allow the West to supply Ukraine with more deadly weapons. We will see another act of this information play before a decision to ship modern jet fighters to Ukraine is agreed upon. Then, of course, there will be the same level of “disagreements and conflicts,” but eventually, one shouldn’t doubt that Ukraine will get jet fighters, starting with Soviet MIG- and SU-fighters from Slovakia and Poland, then followed by F-16s and other NATO models.
The Kremlin’s reaction is precious. Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, commented on the decision to ship tanks to Ukraine, saying that it became clear to the Kremlin that there was no accord in the West in general around the issue of military aid to Ukraine. Also, the fact that the West has enough modern tanks capable of fighting with Russian remains obscure for the Kremlin, according to Peskov. This is what the Russian propaganda wants and needs to see: disagreements and conflicts. This conflict’s agenda allows them to lullaby the Russian people with tales that the support for Ukraine will wither soon and that Russians need to be patient just a little bit more. Then Victory will come, exactly like in the Great Patriotic War.
The strategy of the West is clear; no Western country wants to be at war with Russia. At the same time, Ukraine needed support, so the West started supplying it with more advanced weapons. Now the supplies happen much quicker than at the beginning of the war. The “tank case” shows this change in the western approach to the weapon supply, where a silent embargo on offensive weaponry was in effect for 11 months.
The Kremlin’s narrative of “the red lines” failed from the beginning as Russia violated international “red lines” when it invaded a sovereign state. Furthermore, this ‘red line” is not only part of Western values but is one of the pillars of the system of International Law. Another pillar of international relations is that supplying weapons and even using one country’s experienced army officers to help another country’s army in its military actions has never been seen as direct involvement in a war. No one has seen, or described Soviet military support and presence in Vietnam against the U.S., or in Egypt and Syria against Israel as direct war between the U.S. and the USSR.
Putin’s several public warnings to respond if NATO crossed “red lines” by providing Ukraine with certain missile strike systems remained just words. Other prominent Russian officials repeatedly made similar warnings, promising to consider U.S. and NATO vehicles transporting weapons on Ukr
The West understands that Putin’s “red lines” are for the internal agenda only. Even the fact that they are not named but outline some obscure “national interests’, allows the Kremlin to interpret them differently, twisting its propaganda around. But the “red lines” do exist. The West should not underestimate them. Inability of the Kremlin to define and observe them. It is quite obvious that the next “red line” is national borders between and Ukraine and Russia as of Feb.24, 2022. This issue lacks accord in the West. Should Ukraine get Crimea back? Should it get it now or later? Should the West publicly announce its “red lines” outlining them as the Russian Federation’s borders as of 1991?
While these questions are still to be answered, one red line obviously exists for Putin. This line is his personal safety, and in the current power construction in Russia, Putin can secure his safety only if he retains power. When the West challenges his personal power, then he will feel the real threat. One should remember that it might be dangerous to corner a rat, especially one with a nuclear bomb. Putin’s body, ex-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, regularly reminds us of that, saying that “a nuclear power can never lose a conventional war.” His regular remarks clearly state that the Kremlin acknowledges its possible defeat in Ukraine, but they also warn against such outcome. We should hope that Western leaders have learned how to play with Russia and will continue the winning game, weakening Russia further and successfully staying away from nuclear confrontation.
Russia’s Support for Terrorism: A Carry-Over of Soviet Policy
During the Cold War, the Kremlin was a supporter of foreign terrorism, in order to destabilize enemy governments or to further Moscow’s policy objectives. The same strategy is being used, today, by the Russian Federation in countries around the world.
Beginning in the 1990s, critics of the Kremlin began turning up dead in Ukraine and Western Europe, including in the United Kingdom. Russia has also been accused of backing despots and dictators who have committed massacres and other crimes against humanity, such as Syria’s Assad, who was accused of supporting chemical weapons attacks on civilians. Currently, the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, a private military and security companies (PMSCs) is actively fighting in conflicts, ranging from Ukraine to Syria, where they have been accused of war crimes, including targeting civilians, murder, rape, and torture. The Wagner Group has been declared a Transnational Criminal Organization by the United States and is expected to be recognized as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by both the E.U. and the U.S in the near future. If that designation is applied to Wagner, the Russian Federation will be an official sponsor of international terrorism.
During the Cold War, the West similarly accused the USSR of supporting terrorism, an accusation which the Kremlin emphatically denied. Before discussing the veracity of these accusations, it would be constructive to define terrorism. The definition of terrorism used for this article is violence or the threat of violence applied, often against civilian targets, in order to bring about change, often political, religious, or social.
In 2011, the Director of the CIA released a report, finding that the Soviet Union supported terrorism, in the form of foreign insurgents and fighters, if such support was constructive to the goals of the Soviet state. This was the case in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Angola, El Salvador, Mozambique, and Chile, among others were supported somewhat covertly. The Soviet Union openly supported some groups which enjoyed a certain degree of political legitimacy within their own territory, such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) or the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO).
When the Soviet Union dealt with foreign extremist groups, however, they camouflaged their involvement. Often, support was carried out through allied and radical states. Many of these radical states also support terrorist groups, on their own, which further complicates an analysis of Soviet involvement. The CIA charges that Soviet support for terrorism fell into several categories, among them (1) Support for anti-Israel and anti-U.S. groups, (2) Soviet-backed insurrections in Third World countries, which the Kremlin made more socially acceptable by dubbing them liberation movements, and (3) Violence by left-wing groups in the West, which did not overtly reveal the direct involvement of the Soviet Union.
One example of a foreign terrorist group supported by the USSR was Italy’s Red Brigades. This violent far-left Marxist–Leninist group, was responsible for hundreds of deaths, in the 1970s and 1980s, including the abduction and murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro. The Red Brigades were born of the radicalization of the 1968 student movement, which took place across the European continent. The Red Brigades were linked to the Soviet Union through the Italian Socialist Party and through training and support received in Czechoslovakia. U.S. intelligence services believe that the Red Brigades and other terrorist organizations were supported by the Soviet Union to covertly carry out state objectives. In 1981, the group kidnapped a NATO officer, United States Army General James L. Dozier. The Red Brigades was later discovered to have kept files on NATO leaders. Opposition to NATO has been a longstanding policy of both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.
Many experts, writing during the Cold War, believe that supporting terrorism was an integral part of the Soviet strategy, a strategy meant to destabilize Western democracies. Other experts were of the opinion that Soviet support for terrorist groups was short-lived, deriving from an immediate need to fulfill a particular policy objective. After reviewing declassified documents, in the post-Cold War era, the Soviet Union’s relationship with terrorism was inconsistent. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union did not trust these organizations. But, during the 1970s, their policy changed. And, by the 1980s, the Kremlin was regularly supplying weapons to the PLO, among other terrorist groups. And this was indeed part of the Kremlin’s Cold War strategy, as long as the terrorist groups focused on Western targets.
In the wake of the capture of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Secretary of State Alexander Haig accused the Soviet Union of attempting to “foster, support and expand” terrorist activities by “training, funding and equipping the forces of terrorism”. It is well documented that the Soviet Union was guilty of state terrorism, utilizing torture, arbitrary detention, intimidation, and imprisonment, often under inhumane conditions, against its own citizens in order to maintain control. States sponsored by the Soviet Union, such as Libya, Iraq, and Syria, were guilty of similar crimes on the domestic front, while also exporting murder to other countries.
The Soviet Union was also guilty of violations of human rights, such as massacres, in armed conflict in Afghanistan. Rebel groups supported by the Soviets also engaged in similar terroristic massacres. Regarding terrorist organizations in Western Europe, such as the Red Brigades and Germany’s Red Army Faction, some experts claim that there is little hard evidence of direct support by the Soviet Union. However, they also find that Libya and other countries supported by the Soviet Union directly supported such groups. Consequently, arms and funds for the Red Brigades and other terrorist groups flowed from the USSR, through other international terrorist organizations supported by the USSR. Additionally, there is evidence that Red Brigades operatives were trained in Czechoslovakia, although it is unclear if this was at the behest of the Soviet Union.
The 2011 findings of the Director of Central Intelligence are even clearer and more direct in their accusation that “the Soviets have no moral compunctions about supporting foreign insurgent and terrorist groups”. Additionally, the Director of Central Intelligence posits that Eastern European countries follow the Kremlin’s lead in terms of supporting terrorist groups, which further obfuscates Moscow’s involvement. Moscow also condemns the actions of Western terrorist groups, such as Germany’s Red Army Faction and France’s Action Direct, in order to send a signal that Russia, like Western powers, opposes terrorism. On the other hand, Moscow and the Soviet Bloc also opposed efforts to form international anti-terrorist policing agencies.
A recent example would be that after 9/11, Vladimir Putin made a big show of joining in western efforts to combat terrorism, but this was because he needed international support for his condemnation of Chechen freedom fighters. Since then, he has reversed his stance on cooperating with the west. Additionally, he now supports the Chechens and has deployed them to Ukraine, where they have been accused of atrocities. This raises the question of whether or not the Kremlin’s deployment of Chechens to Ukraine could be considered supporting international terrorism.
Experts, such as those at the Brookings Institute, currently believe that the Russian Federation is a sponsor of terrorism, an opinion supported by the State Department. Russia’s actions match the definition of terrorism in that they involve violence, committed in a foreign country, with a political motive. Modern Russia’s support of terrorism is an extension of the Soviet Union’s support of terrorism beyond its borders, including in Western Europe.
Whether a group utilized these violent actions to achieve independence or some other goal was of no interest to the USSR, which was only concerned with promoting its own foreign policy objectives. Evidence shows that the Kremlin was directly, or indirectly, supporting multiple insurgent and separatist movements. A concrete example would be El Salvador, where the revolutionaries coordinated directly with Moscow. The Kremlin provided local groups with guns and training. The International Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party was directly responsible for operations focusing on establishing new, foreign governments. A range of military and paramilitary training and support was provided to insurgent groups by the KGB, GRU, and 10th Directorate of Soviet Staff. This included training revolutionaries from Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia in training camps, both inside and outside of the Soviet Union, as well as in other Soviet Bloc countries. The weapons often flowed through Cuba, Libya or Czechoslovakia. Semtex, the explosive used by many terrorist groups, of the time, was invented in Czechoslovakia.
Today, in addition to the semi-covert aid the Russian Federation extends to the PLO and other terrorist organizations, the Wagner Group enjoys overt support. They obtained their training and weapons directly from the Kremlin, and actively deployed by Russian companies, close to the government, engaging in acts of terrorism.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and became the Russian Federation. The KGB was replaced by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Putin, a former KGB agent, was once head of the FSB. The tactics, training, experience, personnel, and even the leadership of KGB have carried over to the FSB, as has the Kremlin’s support for foreign terrorism.
Context and Practice of International Politics: Experience in 2022 and Expectations from 2023
The dramatic events of 2022, centred on the military-political conflict between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian issue, are a vivid example of the interaction of context and practice in international politics. The global context, within which one cannot help but consider the most acute manifestation of the current clash of interests, is the end of a period which saw the relative monopoly of Western countries in world politics and economics, their ability to determine what the international order should be.
The practice of world politics is determined by the still-colossal resources of the United States and Western Europe, on the one hand, and by the obvious insufficiency of the forces that are their main opponents – China and Russia – insufficient for a real fight. As a result, if the objective factors in the development of international politics and the world economy speak in favour of the inevitable retreat of the former leaders to new positions, then the subjective qualities of their opponents, and indeed of the powers of permanent status, are such that the advent of a new international order looks like a completely uncertain prospect.
The change in context, which is very likely to be one of the factors underpinning Russian resolve, is quite obvious. First, it is easy to see this in the voting in the UN General Assembly on the resolutions adopted by Western countries as part of their anti-Russian campaign.
Despite the fact that, from the point of view of formal international law, condemning Russia would not be a problem for it, an increasing number of countries prefer to exercise moderation, by abstaining or avoiding voting on such resolutions. Of course, this contributes to the infrastructure of institutions created over the past couple of decades that are not oriented towards the West and are not subject to its will – BRICS, the SCO and the Eurasian Economic Union. But first of all, many countries simply do not feel the need to unconditionally support the West in its campaign against Moscow. It does not meet their interests or their main goals of development; these states do not have their own claims against Russia. In general, it should be noted that the reaction to Russian actions since February 2022 has been extremely mild. For example, in 2003, the Indian Parliament passed a special resolution condemning the US and allied invasion of Iraq, which is now unimaginable outside of the West in relation to Russia.
Second, the change in context is underlined by the failure of the US and its allies to build a sustainable broad-based coalition against Russia early in the conflict. Now the list of states that initiate measures of economic war against Russian interests is limited to permanent members of the military-political blocs of the West – NATO and the European Union, with the involvement of Japan and Australia, which have strong bilateral allied relations with the United States. All other countries of the world, with the exception of the microscopic clients of the United States in Oceania or the Caribbean, only enforce “sanctions” at the state or corporate level under pressure. In other words, the circle of those whom the United States and the European Union do not have to force to carry out their decisions regarding Russia turned out to be extremely narrow. This means that relations between the West and the rest of the world are now based on a repressive policy of coercion, which in itself does not mean anything good for the global positions of the United States. First, because it inevitably forces a significant number of countries to strive to extricate themselves from American influence for purely practical reasons. The need to fear Western reprisals is gradually shifting relations with the West from factors that promote development to those that hinder it. Thus, we cannot have serious doubts that the context – the objective development of the international environment – is now very friendly for Russia and its main interests.
This allows Moscow and Beijing to look to the future with relative confidence and to assume that they are on the “right side of history”, while their opponents in the West resist inevitable changes. However, it is worth recognising that a favourable context is an important, but not the only condition for the survival of states in a chaotic international environment. No less significant is the ability of states to respond to current challenges that arise during critical historical periods. The fact is, what we are experiencing now represents just such an era.
Therefore, in addition to the realisation of its selfish interests, the whole world is closely watching the ability of Russia to survive and succeed in various aspects of its conflict with the West. In particular, attention is drawn to the ability of the Ukrainian forces to continue active resistance, especially in the context of a fairly stable supply of weapons from the West. Whether we like it or not, the pace at which Russian goals are being realised on the territory of Ukraine is becoming a factor that influences the behaviour of friendly states. In addition, the apparent concentration of Moscow’s efforts in one direction creates numerous temptations for third countries to solve their problems with less regard for Russian preferences. For example, we see the behaviour of Azerbaijan in its difficult relations with Armenia; it shows signs of haste, caused by the understanding that Russia is not ready for sufficiently decisive action in the South Caucasus. We find less striking examples in Central Asia, where the political regimes perceive the course of Russian operations in Ukraine as an incentive to achieve their own short-term goals. In short, Moscow’s justified delay in resolving the most important aspects of the Ukrainian problem creates nervousness in its environment, which would be better avoided. In a more favourable position is China, which has not yet joined the direct confrontation with the West. Despite the fact that the problem facing the leadership of the PRC is no less significant, as Taiwan is a constitutional part of Chinese territory, Beijing is still showing restraint. This helps to buy time, but increases the world’s fears that the Chinese authorities are behaving this way not because it is part of their long-term strategy, but because of the inability to act more actively. At the same time, one must understand that restraint is good for the time being: for example, the United States 105 years ago chose the moment to enter the war with the Central Powers, and did not experience fears about its consequences. Although, of course, every historical comparison is an oversimplified vision of the situation due to the change in that very context.
In summary, as conflict grows over the structure of the future international order, the tension between context and practice can grow as much as it shrinks. However, in any event, it will be the most important systemic characteristic of the confrontation, which we had the opportunity to observe throughout 2022 and will continue to do so. In this sense, 2023 may turn out to be, in a certain sense, a turning point – the opposing sides will begin to run out of accumulated reserves and the question will arise of mobilising the resources that they originally planned to save for the purposes of future development. In this regard, it will be important for Russia to use a favourable context not only as a confirmation of its strategic rightness, but, first of all, as a source of resources for its own stability. This means making relations with the World Majority a central part of our foreign economic relations and making real efforts.
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