Russia in the midst of the latest Himalayan standoff

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Even as the India-China standoff raised temperatures on both sides of the LAC, the defence ministers of the two countries were in Moscow to participate in the Victory Day Parade. The two armies facing off in Ladakh were also there marching in the same parade. Had the Victory Day Parade not been postponed from 9 May because of COVID-19, the Indian PM may well have been in attendance.

The India-Russia relationship is an old one going back over decades of defence as well as cultural exchanges.

International relations recognise no permanent friends, enemies — all that is permanent are interests. Beginning in the 70s, the US had single-mindedly promoted China as a counterweight to its arch cold-war rival Russia. Today — the US sees China and Russia together, ranged against its strategic interests.

Over time, not only India, but also Russia have diversified their partnerships. Following the annexation of Crimea, Russia found itself the target of sanctions by the US and its partner. The weight of these sanctions have pushed it closer in a tighter embrace of China.

Yet the EU remains a major trading partner of Russia — amongst other things, Europe’s dependence on Russian gas is not an easy one to break. Voices across France and Germany still favour close ties with Russia.

An armed power struggle between China and India is not in Russia’s interest which has little to gain by possible external intervention in Asia. Russia has maintained that India and China are capable of dealing with their disputes bilaterally — without the interference of third parties. In the backdrop of the Galwan clash, Russia as a friend of China can be a significant influencer for peace between India and China.

The Indo-Pacific as a concept does not find favour in Moscow as it defines by excluding China and Russia from its ambit. India has maintained that its endorsement of the Indo-Pacific is not against any power. Today, even the US’s most trusted allies are troubled by the transactional nature of the Trump administration’s alliances everywhere — including in the Indo-Pacific.

Russia on its part too is wary of the Chinese claim of being an Arctic nation. Accordingly, all nations in the region look at coalitions with other nations to safeguard their interests.

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