Since India’s independence India and Russia have had a most meaningful and profound relationship. This strategic partnership is one of great mutual trust and understanding.
ValdaiClub.com interview with M.K. Bhadrakumar, Retired Ambassador, Columnist for The Hindu and Deccan Herald Indian newspapers, Rediff.com, Asia Times and the Strategic Culture Foundation.
Formally, India is not a Pacific power, which means it cannot participate in certain important regional integration organizations, such as APEC for example. Can we assume that India’s activity in the region is somewhat limited by its geographical position?
Factually, you are right, in that India is not a member of the APEC. But consider the situation in a different way. If you look at the two major powers in the Asia-Pacific region, Russia and China, India has a very important relationship with both of them.
Historically, since India’s independence India and Russia have had a most meaningful and profound relationship. This strategic partnership is one of great mutual trust and understanding.
And China is currently India’s number one trading partner. Last year's trade volume amounted to 74 billion dollars, and there is hope that in the next two or three years the trade volume will reach triple digits – 100 billion dollars. So without doubt, this is a very important relationship. It is a very complex relationship as well, but it is a relationship in which the process of normalization between the two countries has been proceeding satisfactorily, despite all of the differences and disputes.
So from this point of view, India has interests here. India has spread its wings in the region.
In addition, India has a very important relationship with Japan; its economic ties with South Korea are rapidly progressing; and India has a long established friendly relationship with Vietnam.
So, all this taken together shows that India is not a newcomer to the region. This country is very much a part of the region. And the region is also willing to look at it like this.
In institutional terms – there are so many institutions of regional cooperation working in the area, and of course India desires to be a member of as many of these organizations as possible. But the fact that India is not an APEC member should not be considered too serious an issue. Do not forget that even though we are not part of the APEC organization, we still have regional cooperation formats with three of the most important Asia-Pacific players. We have the Russia-India-China forum. We have BRICS, which also brings together Russia, China and India. And we also have dialogue forums with Japan. So even in the Far East, India is very much a part of the matrix of regional cooperation.
Regarding Russia-India relations, do you believe that the recent activation of Russia-Pakistan relations can somehow influence India’s attitude toward Russia?
It is improper for India to view the recent trends in Pakistan-Russia relations in “zero-sum” terms. I don’t see any reason for it. Russia always trusted India, and when it turned out that India established a very profound relationship with the United States, Russia accepted it.
In a set up like today’s, in an international scenario like today’s, it would be very wrong on India’s part to look at anything in “zero-sum” terms. Because networking, building bridges, talking to different parties, is part of the game in today's international politics. Every country must do this, and India too. And in doing this, India does not really look into whether this or that country has friendly relations with Russia or not.
And besides, erosion in our relationship with Russia is extremely improbable, because it is truly based on bedrock of great trust and confidence. In India-Russia relations, it is not the trade volume but the quality of the relationship that matters. I don’t think India has many relationships of this kind today.
As for the recent trends, I would like to stress that Russia’s desire to repair its ties with Pakistan is not difficult to understand, as the regional security scenario is extremely complicated, particularly considering the situation in Afghanistan and the pending withdrawal of the western forces from this country. All sorts of problems remain in this region. And Pakistan is the key player in the security of Afghanistan.
Any kind of long-term settlement in Afghanistan shall be based on a broadly representative government, and Pakistan will have an important role in the issue. And from a diplomatic angle, in terms of Russia’s self-interests in the region, it is obvious that Russia is willing to communicate more actively with Pakistan.
Even though Pakistan is encountering difficulties in terms of security, it is at the same time a major regional power. It is a big market for Russia, for its engineering exports, for energy exports. If you list Pakistan's problems, energy efficiency is almost as serious an issue as terrorism. So Russia can play a significant role there. It is also a mutually beneficial relationship from Russia’s point of view.
To sum up, instead of viewing this relationship in “zero-sum” terms, India and Russia should try to settle some of the issues in the region. I would like to stress again that Indian policy-makers are confident in their relations with Russia. And they also know that Russia will never do anything that will run contrary to India’s core interests.