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India-Russia Military Exercise: Reviving Relations

The military exercise between Indian and Russian Armed Forces could be said as a step towards achieving two objectives – one from each side. This exercise is taking place at Vladivostok from 19th to 29th October. This military exercise becomes important on account of rapidly changing or rather unstable geopolitical situation across the Asian continent.

Russia has been India’s oldest and closest friend. Despite the policy of Non-Alignment, India always shared a special bond with Russia. Russia has also stood by India in the latter’s hour of need especially when it came to defense matters. For a long time Russia has been a major arms supplier to India. Russia’s defense co-operation with India has been across all the three wings – Army, Navy and Air Force.

However, India-Russia bilateral relations have witnessed a significant transformation in the past decade. India’s growing proximity to US and China flexing its economic and military muscles have contributed to the alterations in India-Russia relations. While India sought to expand its ties with US, Russia also moved closer towards China. China was an important factor to support Russia’s economy. In more recent times Russia is also seen moving closer to Pakistan. Russia relations with Pakistan have resulted in defense co-operation and joint military exercise. These developments certainly indicate that Russia has been looking for different options at international stage just like India did. Russia’s relations with China and Pakistan only add to India’s worries. Although India-US relations have been growing, US policy with respect to South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular again signals that US too keeps its options open and tries to balance both India and Pakistan.

Such geopolitical situation demands that India continuously present itself as a stable and trustworthy strategic partner. As an emerging power that aspires to be a superpower, it is imperative for India to project its strengths. In addition to this India should also look forward to increase its strategic outreach.

This military exercise should be looked upon as an opportunity instead of a routine. Even though India and Russia have been close friends for a long time the current situation has caused both the sides to rework on their friendship. The current geopolitical flux enables India to present itself as an important stakeholder in Asian strategic landscape. Such a projection would also imply equality of status between both India and Russia.

For Russia relations with China are very important from economic point of view. But China’s expansion plans – both economic and military – have now become a cause of concern for Russia (like a number of other countries). Russia looking to refresh its relations with India is only a sign that the former intends to have a strong deterrent defense partnership with the latter against China.

The location for this military exercise is Vladivostok that lies at the tri-junction of Russia-China-North Korea border. The choice of this location sums up the entire matter. Despite high economic stakes in Russia, China does not refrain from using North Korea against Russia like it does with US, Japan and North Korea. China’s vision of expansion and economic growth is allied to its vision of supreme reign over its partners and does not involve equal and peaceful development of all the entities.

This policy does create strategic gaps which India should step in to fill. The 10 day military exercise with Russia would surely be a step in that direction. It should also breathe fresh air in the friendship between the two countries.

(The author is an Independent Researcher based in Vadodara and can be reached at – [email protected])

Niranjan Marjani

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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