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Russia Moves East, India West, Straining Ties

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“Russia is losing India!”—I have been hearing such lamentations in Moscow for as long as I have followed world politics. Pessimism and alarmism are not a rare phenomenon among intellectuals and experts in any country, Russia included.

Manifestations of Russian-Indian relations losing their past dynamics are plenty. The bilateral trade is negligible. Today, Russia trades with India about 10 times less than it does with China. The military technical cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi experiences many complications and even setbacks due to the growing Western presence in the Indian defense market and with the current Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” industrial strategy. There are significant areas of disagreement between the two countries on many international matters including QUAD, Afghanistan, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and others. In 2020, for the first time in 20 years, Moscow and New Delhi failed to conduct their regular annual summit meeting.

Of course, neither of these symptoms suggests that the overall relationship is going down the drain. The history of productive cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi is too long to be seriously challenged by a few economic or geopolitical nuisances. The Russian-Indian “privileged strategic partnership” continues to serve as a model great power relationship in many ways, even when the two sides “agree to disagree” on various specific matters.

Still, there should be no room for complacency from either side in the bilateral relationship. It is not only red tape, bureaucratic inertia, communication failures, personal ambitions, or situational omissions that warrant closer scrutiny. The overall trends in global politics also call for a thoughtful reassessment of the Russian-Indian partnership.

The world moves, albeit slowly and reluctantly, to a new geopolitical and geoeconomic bipolarity. Year after year, Moscow is moving east, enhancing its ties to China. Year after year, New Delhi is moving west, building stronger links to the US. If this trend continues into the mid-term future, the two friendly countries might ultimately find themselves in the opposite geopolitical and economic blocks, and the Eurasian space will split into two pieces. Over time, Moscow and New Delhi will find it more challenging to maintain their bilateral cooperation even at the current levels, not to mention it is further deepening and broadening.

Neither Moscow nor New Delhi have capacities to change the trajectory of the international system unilaterally or even in a consorted effort. However, neither Moscow nor New Delhi should limit themselves to a position of mere observers of the approaching global bipolarity. Russia and India (as well as the EU and many other international actors) are going to lose a lot if they have to take sides in this forthcoming US-China rivalry. On the contrary, it is in their best interests to confront this bipolarity and to mitigate it to the extent possible with a new emphasis on multilateralism.

India, China and Russia are all members of BRICS and of SCO; Moscow could work harder making these institutions more efficient in reaching common denominators for even highly sensitive security and development issues. There is also a separate mechanism of the Russia-India-China trilateral consultations, which deserves more attention than it gets today.

The future of Eurasia at the end of the day depends largely on the future of the China-India relationship. No outside players, Russia including, can “fix” this relationship for Beijing and New Delhi. However, outside players, Russia included, can assist in turning this relationship around by offering positive incentives for both sides to work together in trilateral or other multilateral formats. The alternative approach—trying to balance Beijing and New Delhi against the other—might give Moscow certain situational advantages, but it will not serve Russia’s long-term interests.

Moscow could offer India and Beijing new opportunities for trilateral development projects in the Arctic region, in Central Asia or even in the Russian Far East. Agriculture and food processing might represent another area for trilateral cooperation. The three countries could consider working together in pharma and health sector, where they also complement each other.

In sum, decision-makers in Moscow should not regard China and India as two parallel foreign policy priorities that Russia has to choose between and/or keep separate from each other. They should rather approach Beijing and New Delhi as partners, which will become more valuable for Russia if they find ways to work more actively with each other.

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How to strengthen the unity of the people of Russia?

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The significance of the recent changes to the Russian Constitution, and topical issues of interethnic relations were the centerpiece of an online international conference held at the Moscow headquarters of the Public Chamber of Russia.

Opening the conference, “We are the multinational people of the Russian Federation: unity in diversity,” the chairman of the Public Chamber’s Commission and member of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations, Vladimir Zorin, described the period when the Constitution was adopted as very difficult and characterized by an active development of new concepts and approaches pertaining to interethnic relations. The 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, then one of the world’s two superpowers, brought about a flurry of serious problems, many of ethno-political nature, which rippled out into the outside world. These included a resurgence of national and cultural self-awareness of Russia’s many peoples, a religious revival, the exacerbation of old and the emergence of new ethno-political conflicts, and finally, the growth of ethnic and ethno-confessional separatism, which sometimes degenerated into open terrorism. All this threatened the very existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state. Russia was forced to make a swift transition from the Soviet to what was then perceived as a liberal-democratic model of “minimal state,” paying an enormous socio-economic and political price for that changeover, which ignored Russia’s traditional values and historical continuity and, at the end of the day, proved largely counterproductive. And all this time, sociologists and politicians alike have been searching for the optimal way of establishing Russia’s statehood and for an ideological doctrine that would be consistent with this country’s traditional values.

The Constitution, adopted on December 12, 1993, contained a number of innovations that laid the foundations for a new society. In its original version, it made no mention of the country’s ethnic and state makeup, as well as of differentiation between the subjects of the Russian Federation along ethnic-state, administrative-territorial and ethno-territorial lines. Neither did it provide the right or the procedure for their exit from the federation. Thus, the people’s right to self-determination is clearly interpreted as self-determination within Russia.

The Constitution allows broader legal regulation of ethnic-related processes, and of ethnic and civil identification at the personal, regional and national levels. In keeping with Section 2 of Article 26 of the Constitution, people are free to determine and indicate their nationality, and no one can be forced to either determine of indicate his or her nationality.

“The amendments proposed in the course of the discussion of the results of the nationwide vote on July 1, 2020, enlarged on these approaches. As a result, in recent years, the ethno-cultural sovereignty of the Russian Federation has been restored, with the state focusing once again on issues of an ethno-political nature,” Zorin concluded.

The head of the General Secretariat of the Eurasian Peoples’ Assembly, Svetlana Smirnova, noted that on the basis of the proposed constitutional changes, work is already underway to enshrine them in the law.

“This conference was on the list of events that are part of our program and were approved by the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs. This year is the first time that our federal and national-territorial cultural autonomies and associations have had the opportunity to hold events with the Agency’s support. Our main goal is to further improve the mechanisms for strengthening the civic unity of the Russian nation, preserve and develop ethno-cultural and linguistic diversity, popularize the spiritual and moral values ​​of the peoples of Russia in accordance with the amendments to the Constitution,” Smirnova noted.

One of the most important constitutional amendments makes it incumbent on the Russian Federation to help compatriots living abroad exercise their rights to protect their interests and preserve their Russian and cultural identity. The state safeguards the cultural identity of all peoples and ethnic communities, guarantees the preservation of the country’s ethno-cultural and linguistic diversity. This is not just a declaration. According to the State Ethnic Policy Strategy of the Russian Federation, adopted in 2012, there are people of 193 nationalities now living in the Russian Federation and speaking 277 languages ​​and dialects. At the same time, 87 languages ​​are used in the system of education. By the time the amended version of the Strategy was adopted six years later, their number had already risen to 105. This requires additional efforts and financing needed to write new  textbooks and train school and university teachers, and the Russian state is ready to foot the bill.

“In our country, as one of the world’s most multi-ethnic and multilingual states, issues of ethnic policy are of particular relevance,” said Anna Kotova, State Secretary – Deputy Head of the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs.

Leokadia Drobizheva, who heads the Center for the Study of Interethnic Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, emphasized the all-importance for any country of the concept of “consent” that was added to the text of the State Ethnic Policy Strategy in 2012. Without this, it is impossible to implement either economic or cultural plans.

“This concept meant not just good relations between people, but also trust and the ability to coordinate their interests and settle disputes,” she explained.

According to the results of a sociological survey published by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) and the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), the indicator of trust in Russian society is constantly fluctuating, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. And still, apart from their desire to survive, our people also demonstrated a an acute sense of compatibility and a desire to help each other, especially in multiethnic places like Astrakhan region, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Yakutia and Karelia. The respondents named family, work and material wellbeing as their main values. They also mentioned equality of all people before the law, justice, equal opportunities for education and work, as well as the right for paid vacations among the goals that need to be achieved to maintain unity. Thus, the concept of “consent,” introduced into the Strategy, is provided with the most important social functions for a person, which also pertains to interethnic relations in Russia.

“Currently, only 4 percent of our citizens have experienced prejudice based on their ethnicity and race. However, the actual percentage of such attitudes is higher and varies depending on the situation in the region, with 78-80 percent of those polled saying that they do not experience any negativity.  On the other hand, we know that such problems arise regularly and need to be taken into account in order to ensure effective prevention of extremism. First of all, we are talking about the observance of a citizen’s constitutional rights. One’s nationality should not impede employment or career growth, and this is something about 40 percent of respondents are concerned about. The situation in Bashkiria, Yakutia and Tatarstan deserves special attention and here we have no reason for complacence,” Drobizheva noted.

In turn, the concept of “consent” is directly related to Russian identity. Even though Russian citizens are primarily concerned about their material wellbeing, it is equally important that they feel themselves as being one people. According to data released by VTsIOM, before the pandemic struck, 90 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Russian citizens. This is a very high percentage, of course. However, Russian citizens differ in their perception of national identity. While some of them associate themselves primarily with a single state, the majority associate themselves with the legal field they live in. At the same time, when it comes to history and culture, just under 50 percent of respondents said that besides unifying tendencies there are also separatist tendencies there, depending on the region.  

“This area deserves close and delicate attention,” Leokadia Drobizheva concluded.

From our partner International Affairs

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Russia took a stance on friendship with China

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Russia proved its sincere friendship with China by canceling its Summit meeting with India, on charges of its too much pro-American policies.

Russia and India signed a treaty of Strategic friendship in the year 2000. Russian helped India in many aspects, including market access, economic assistance, technology transfer, and defense cooperation. In fact, the Indian defense Industry was based on Russian technical assistance. Russian was extending its full diplomatic and political support under this agreement.

Since signing the strategic agreement, there was a summit meeting every year without any disruption for consecutive 19 years. But this year, the meeting was postponed a couple of times and finally canceled.

The political gurus foresee a severe rift in Russia-India relations. Not only different interests but opposite interests, which might lead to further consequences shortly.

India was developing its relations with America rapidly. India hired politicians, senators, Congress members, and media houses for lobbying inside America to promote Indian narrative and importance among the US-Administration. Gradually, India convinced US-Administration and developed close relations. Signing as A major Defense Partner and series of strategic agreements with the US, BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement)being the last in sequence, has completed the close alliance between the US and India.

Indian role in Asia-Pacific Alliance and the US, Australia, and Japan is evident that Indian interests have aligned with America entirely. The alliance is to encircle China, counter China, and resist the Chinese rise. Whereas Russian interests are opposite, it cooperates with China, supports China, and maintains peace and security in the region and globally.

Russian interests and Indian interests were in a direct collision. Russia has declared its relations with China more strategic, and any country wanted to harm China, Russia feels its obligation to cut ties with them.

It was Russian who made it possible that India joined SCO. But now, many member countries in SCO doubt Indian role in SCO, as Indian interests coincide with America rather than SCO. Some member countries may ask for banning Indian presence in SCO, as it concerns the organization’s security and privacy.

India is also a member of BRICS, where Russia and China are also present. If India keeps opposing China and its mega initiatives BRI and keeps its border disputes with China, it might become very uncomfortable to keep its membership.

India might be wanted to play smartly, getting benefits from Russia while silently serving American interests. It might not work anymore. India needs to make its mind-set, either to be sincere in SCO, BRICS, relations with Russia and China, etc., and declare its straightforward policy. Keep its feet on two boats, going in opposite directions, may fail.

Many countries in the world are declared to be on the American block, and it is accepted. There is no harm to be in any club. But the problem with India is to be in two blocks simultaneously. It creates many suspicions.

Recently, Russia is in close relations with Pakistan, Turkey, and Iraan, while India has rivalries with all of them. It will also be difficult for Russia to maintains good relations with India while developing ties with Indian adversaries. Indian role in Afghanistan is also against the interests of Russia. Russian supports peace and stability in Afghanistan, whereas India opposes it. In geopolitics, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey are emerging a block, where India is the adversary to all of them.

Speaking via video link to the Russian international affairs council, a state-run think tank, recently Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while referring to the Quad group, said Western countries were trying to weaken India’s close ties and Russia.

Russian Ambassador to India, Nikolai Kudashiv, proposed a Eurasian treaty in the Indian Ocean — so it is crucial to understand what Russia has in common with the Quad Group.

“The United States and Russia are at odds with each other. The United States is in the Quad. In this way, India will become part of the ‘anti-Russia’ tent. The Russian Navy in the Indo-Pacific could be in danger.

Tensions between India and China in the Ladakh region have been high since May this year. When things got worse, it was in Russia that Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met with the Chinese Defence Minister. Many experts believe that Russia has acted as a mediator between the two countries at the behest of India. Russia had also played a similar role during the Doklam conflict. Some experts believe that it is immoral for India to be part of an “anti-China group” even when the border dispute between India and China continues, and Russia is playing a mediating role.

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Strategic Rivalry: Prospects for Russian-American Relations in the New US Political Cycle

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The US presidential elections regularly raise the question of how perceptions of the president-elect influence Russian-American relations. Each new political cycle of American politics is accompanied by hopes for a change for the better. This was the case after the victory of Donald Trump, who was portrayed as a Kremlin agent by the “witnesses of Russian meddling”. It was also the case with Barack Obama, whose empathy and youth were considered a good basis for dialogue. The same has been true of many other presidents. Soon enough, the hopes faded. Even if friendly ties developed between the leaders, the structure and mechanism of foreign policy eventually undermined their initial positive sentiments.

Joseph Biden, who won the recent elections, is rare among the presidents-elect of the past few decades in that he has failed to inspire false hopes and expectations in Moscow. Biden is an experienced and professional politician who has directly or indirectly influenced policy towards the USSR and Russia for almost half a century. Observers needn’t harbour any illusions about a “fresh look” at Russia. Biden won’t alter the structure of Russo-American relations or the basic constants of US foreign policy regarding Russia. We need to soberly assess the nature of our relations, as well as the strategic objectives of the American administration’s actions.

For the United States, Russia is one of the key and most dangerous rivals. Despite the weakness of its economy, the Russian Federation is a large military power that makes decisions on its own and is ready to defend them. Although Russia is inferior to the USSR in terms of its ideological, military, and, especially, economic influence, it is also important as a participant in possible anti-American coalitions. So far, Washington is turning a blind eye to the prospect of an alliance between Russia and China. The latter is also considered a key rival by the United States, albeit of a different kind. The initial premise seems to be that such an alliance is not yet in the interests of both Moscow and Beijing. It seems that the US is confident that it is possible to successfully contain and gradually grind both countries. Moreover, Russia-China policy in the military-political sphere is still far from what could be characterised as an alliance.

From the American point of view, Russia poses a threat or challenge to the United States in most azimuths: in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as in key functional areas—nuclear, digital, space, etc. At the same time, there are very few areas where Russia is vitally important, or at least, simply, important for the United States. At best, we are talking about maintaining a dialogue on arms control, cooperation in the Arctic, episodic interaction in the fight against terrorism, an unclear partnership on climate, remnants of interaction in space and very limited economic ties. The Russian diaspora in America has long been integrated with the rest of the country and does not represent a lobbying force on its own.

In his relations with Russia, Joe Biden and his administration will work towards the following strategic objectives:

1. Containing Russia and balancing its military potential as a minimum task and achieving complete superiority in all key types of weapons and military technologies as a maximum task. Strictly speaking, the maximum task is not mandatory here. Even if the US lags behind in some new types of weapons, it is unlikely to allow Russia to radically change the balance of power, undermine US security and receive some serious dividends. In the best case, this will allow Moscow to preserve its own security and occasionally interfere with the United States in achieving local objectives. At the same time, the ideal task for the United States in this area, apparently, is the radical disarmament of Russia on the model of Germany in 1945. This can be achieved either by military defeat of Russia, or as a result of a radical shock to its political system and subsequent alteration from inside. The first scenario shouldn’t be discounted, but the cost to the United States would be significant. The second scenario is cheaper and safer, especially given the experience of the collapse and self-destruction of the USSR. Hence the second task being considered more important.

2. The loosening of the Russian political regime. Its implementation is often associated with the financing of the opposition, the indoctrination of certain “pro-Western” audiences, information warfare, etc. But this is only part of the picture, and not the most important one. All these measures can be considered only as bacilli, which lack the potential to harm a healthy body. The Soviet Union did not collapse because of these factors, although they did exist. It collapsed under the weight of its own problems, their neglect and the subsequent loss of control over them. Washington may proceed from the assumption that the same scenario can work with modern Russia. It is enough not to interfere with the further flourishing of its systemic problems— corruption, dubious management efficiency, and problems with the rule of law. Ardent fighters against “Western meddling” will only help this goal. Like Brezhnev’s cadres, they will clean up the initiative, bureaucratise the system, and further undermine the law for the sake of imaginary security. Supporters of the cleansing of everything and everyone are the best allies of the United States in solving this problem.

3. Economic and technological containment of Russia. This task can be successfully resolved through sanctions and restrictions on trade, investment, finance and technology. However, this is only part of the problem. Even before the big quarrel with the United States and the West in 2014, Russia could not overcome its peripheral economic status, even despite the presence of significant financial resources, access to world capital markets, and other benefits. The situation is more complicated today. The market conditions are much less favourable, and the political risks for foreign economic relations are becoming higher. It is enough for the USA only to gradually warm up the “milk in the boiler”.

All this, of course, does not exclude cooperation or at least interaction on certain issues. Here there are separate spheres: business cooperation, educational projects, and human contacts. The two realities may well coexist. But politics will inevitably return to the three “great coordinates” of Russian-American relations, indicated above. Even if Russia decides to make large concessions on the Donbass or other issues, they are unlikely to change this vector. The anti-Russia narrative is firmly rooted in the United States. This means that any concessions for the sake of a nominal improvement in relations with Washington are unacceptable.

What should Russia do in such a situation?

1. Maintain and develop its defence potential, taking into account the latest global achievements in science and technology. This is a time-consuming and costly task. Many weapons systems do not allow for the resolution of current foreign policy tasks. But they guarantee that at a certain stage, Moscow will not witness the fate of Belgrade in 1999. Russia has the ability to asymmetrically contain the United States, even if the latter is superior.

2. Consistently build a state based on the rule of law, openness of society, and high management efficiency. It will be more difficult to shatter such a state from the outside, no matter how active propaganda, information warfare and intelligence operations are. Cleansing and excessive “verticalisation” will give the illusion of security. But, in reality, they will undermine it.

3. Maintain ties with the global economy, with the understanding that globalisation is shrinking under the influence of political competition from major powers. This means the need to diversify trade ties, and self-reliance in strategic industries.

In any event, these measures are of a purely defensive nature. Are offensive actions possible? Certainly. Moreover, they are unlikely to copy the American tasks. We can hardly beat Washington in absolute terms of power. The American political system has a large margin of safety, foiling attempts to try to undermine it using the same means that the Americans themselves use against their opponents. It will also be difficult for us to build viable global economic alternatives. What remains?

First of all, Russia must play on the trends of changes in modern international relations. Among them are the rise of the PRC, the instability of anti-Chinese coalitions, competition between technological platforms, changes in ideological coordinates and values, etc. Furthermore — to carry out a targeted, but at the same time concentrated impact in the regions and functional areas in which Russia has gained experience and has a foundation for active policymaking. Finally, the attractiveness and competitiveness of the Russian model itself, its value system and the way of life are also important. Solving this problem necessitates that Russia recognise and rediscover its own identity. It will take time, patience and a lot of work, which cannot always be reduced to ceremonial events and PR stunts. But it is Russia’s identity which promises to offer dividends for years and decades to come.

From our partner RIAC

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