A new chapter has been opened in the Valdai Club’s academic activities – an Indian one. In January, the Club held its session at Raisina Dialogue, an international conference in New Delhi. On April 9, 2019, the first Indo-Russian Conference of the Club was held in Moscow, organised in partnership with India’s Observer Research Foundation.
This year, the “Eastern” theme plays a special role in the research activities of the Valdai Discussion Club, which has already established strong ties with the academic circles of China, other countries of Asia-Pacific, Iran and the countries of the Middle East. The club has interacted with Indian colleagues for a long time, but for the first time, this cooperation took the form of thematic conferences that are planned to be held on a permanent basis.
The topic of the return of mutual interest between Russia and India in each other was a common thread of the discussions. During the panel session, titled “The New Geostrategic Context as Seen from New Delhi and Moscow”, the conference participants formulated a number of theses, which can form the basis of a common vision. The epoch of unipolarity is coming to an end, but the creation of a new multipolar world is proceeding in an atmosphere of uncertainty and multiplying risks. Permanent alliances are becoming less durable; each player is trying to combine as many options as possible. This applies to both Russia and India. Particularly important processes occur in Asia. The two leading players in Asia, China and India, are not satisfied with simply remaining regional powers; they are declaring their global ambitions louder and louder and seek to rebuild the world system dominated by the United States. At the same time, neither side is interested in seeing this process becoming mean-spirited or leading to a large-scale confrontation. There is a request to smooth the contradictions, and special hopes are connected with the trilateral dialogue between Russia, India and China (RIC).
One of the Russian participants said that RIC should become the core of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In his opinion, the contradictions between the three countries are insignificant and can be mitigated through dialogue and agreements. “Communication within the RIC framework should be more frank and honest,” he stressed. “It is important to coordinate foreign policy initiatives and discuss regional issues. For example, in terms of reforming world economic institutions, combating terrorism, preventing interference in other countries’ affairs, and solving environmental problems.”
Indian colleagues generally agreed with the thesis of the leading role for RIC and in the future reformatting Eurasia, but they were more pessimistic about the prospects of overcoming these contradictions. According to one of them, one of the main problems of Asia is a lack of cooperation on security issues. RIC could try to create such a security architecture, but “there are elements of the old world that will prevent the realisation of beautiful dreams.”
The second session of the conference was devoted to sanctions and trade wars, which have become an increasingly important factor in international relations. When discussing economic issues, the Russian and Indian experts expressed significantly similar positions. Both countries are concerned about the widespread use of sanctions as an instrument of political pressure – primarily from the United States. Indian experts explained in detail how India is building its economic relations with Iran, which remains one of its leading partners despite American sanctions. Several vulnerabilities of non-Western countries were emphasized which weaken their positions in trade wars – the SWIFT system, the dominance of the dollar in international settlements, and a lack of legislation akin to the EU’s blocking statute for neutralising US extraterritorial sanctions.
According to experts, cooperation in the field of high technology in the framework of the RIC provides a chance to overcome dependence on the West-centric global financial system. But the key problem is the lack of mutual trust between the three countries. As one of the Indian participants noted, if their relations were built on greater trust, the combined potential of the three countries would be enough to create an effective alternative to the Western world. But in reality, all that remains is to look for opportunities to smooth out the consequences of US activity, which still behaves like an undisputed hegemon.
The subject of the third session, devoted to redefining Eurasia, in many ways echoed the first two. Indian participants welcomed the pivot of Russia to Asia, noting that the concept of a Europe stretching “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” was at a standstill due to the fact that Western countries were not able to completely free themselves from the US influence. It was observed that New Delhi begins to appreciate Russia as a global player with a sense of the moment, politics and geography. Russia’s interest in Eurasia is perceived as a potential factor for positive changes in the supercontinent.
The development of Eurasia is of key importance for the whole world. As one participant said, the 2008 economic crisis washed away the illusion that the Atlantic economic model and the possibilities of the G7 could support the world economy. However, when we talk about Eurasia from a political and economic sense, it means an independent economic system that can support itself, but not exist in isolation from the rest of the world.
The last session of the conference was devoted to bilateral trade and economic cooperation and investment. Noting that India and Russia are linked by a long history of friendly, trusting and mutually beneficial relations, the participants proceeded to discuss problems. According to one of the Indian experts, the main one is unidimensionality: these relations are actually reduced to the export of Russian weapons and cooperation in the field of energy. India and Russia need to enrich bilateral relations and should not be limited to these areas.India’s biggest concern is that it too often turns to be a net technology importer. This also applies to cooperation with Russia. However, there are positive examples, such as the joint development of the BrahMos missile and the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, which is being built by Rosatom Corporation with the participation of Indian specialists. India is interested in the development and export of technology, and properly this will determine the vector of its trade and economic relations in the coming years.