The Russian delegation to last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ Council meeting in Dushanbe strongly warned against the US’ Indo-Pacific plans. According to TASS, they described this strategy as being directed against their own country and China.
The delegation also claimed that it erodes the regional role of ASEAN. In their view, it’s closely connected to the US’ concept of a so-called “rules-based order”, which hypocritically imposes the US’ vision onto others in violation of international law. By contrast, the SCO respects international law, advances multipolar principles, and is an inclusive platform.
India should listen very closely to Russia’s warnings. The South Asian state is part of the US-led Quad alongside Australia and Japan. Although all four countries claim that they are simply an “alliance of democracies” focused on issues of mutual interest that do not concern any third party, most observers are in agreement that this arrangement is tacitly aimed at “containing” China.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even said as much on previous occasions, including last December while speaking at a general meeting of the prestigious Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).
India’s tilt towards the US
Even so, Russia and India are still close allies that regard one another as privileged comprehensive strategic partners. Foreign Minister Lavrov’s trip to New Delhi in early April and his Indian counterpart’s visit to Moscow earlier this month reaffirmed the strength of their relations and are considered to have smoothed over prior misunderstandings between them over the past year.
India’s grand strategy of multi-alignment envisions Russia functioning as a crucial component for perfecting its balancing act between East and West. That said balancing act, however, recently tilted more closely in the direction of the US much to Russia’s and China’s concern.
Unable to control its unipolar hegemonic instincts, the US immediately sought to take advantage of its newfound Indian ally. The past seven months have seen the US Navy violate India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ); its media harshly criticize Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as democracy, human rights, and press freedom issues; the US government repeat threats from the time of former President Donald Trump to sanction India if it goes through its planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems; unreasonably delayed COVID-19 aid, and failure to reach a long-negotiated trade deal.
The only improvements in US-Indian relations are in the military sphere related to the procurement of more equipment and the promulgation of security coordination pacts. These are major developments, the strategic significance of which should not be underestimated, but they also should not overshadow the many aforementioned problems that still plague bilateral ties.
Furthermore, it should be remembered that last summer’s Chinese-Indian clashes in the Galwan River Valley were caused by the US encouragement of its South Asian ally. America failed to provoke a larger war between them, but it still succeeded in stirring up trouble.
Russia’s warnings for India
India is currently at a crossroads whereby it has to decide whether it will continue to stay the course of attempting to “contain” China at the US’ behest through the Quad or pragmatically recalibrate its multi-alignment policy in order to restore its former geostrategic balance between East and West.
Quite arguably, its national interests reside in the latter choice, which it can advance through strengthening its commitment to the SCO and working more closely with Russia and China, including through BRICS and especially the RIC format between these three major countries.
India has such a promising role to play in the emerging multipolar world order that it must not allow itself to continue being misled by the US down the dark path of dividing and ruling Asia at America’s behest through the Quad. Since Russia is historically India’s closest ally, it would do well to listen to that country’s warnings about the Indo-Pacific.
Inclusive, multipolar, and mutually beneficial platforms that are not aimed against any third parties are the future, not exclusive, unipolar, and zero-sum ones like what the US is promoting through the Quad. There are high hopes that India will responsibly recalibrate its multi-alignment strategy.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The views in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.