Putin and multipolarity in Russia’s foreign policy
By J N Dixit
It is logical for the government and media to attach importance to President Putin’s second visit to India in the first week of December. Given the more or less unchangeable supremacy of the US in world politics, structuring equations with other important powers to balance this unipolar influence is logical.
Of course, this does not mean getting into a confrontationist mode with the US or assuming that equations between other powers in the world can challenge USA’s undoubted influence. The visit was marked by a joint declaration, an MoU and the signing of eight agreements. A clear convergence of views emerged on some significant political and security issues.
But it would, nevertheless, be relevant to go beyond the factual aspects of this visit and understand the context in which it took place. Putin’s last visit was in 2000. Prime Minister Vajpayee paid a return visit in 2001, setting in motion the process of annual summits which had been agreed upon. The most important nuance in Russia’s foreign policy brought about by Putin after assuming power was to diversify the entirely Euro-centric orientation of Russia’s foreign policy under Boris Yeltsin.
While maintaining a continuity in ensuring a substantive and incremental pattern of relations with the US and West Europe, Putin acknowledged the need to revive equations with other power centres, particularly in Asia and specifically Japan, China and India, to introduce trends of multipolarity in Russia’s foreign policy.
Some important events have occurred since Putin’s last visit. For one, it is the first after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the consequent anti-terrorist campaign launched by the US in Asia. He came after dealing with a traumatic terrorist attack in a Moscow theatre, against which he took successful retaliatory action. He came to Delhi after attacks on the legislative building in J&K and on the Indian Parliament by Pak-sponsored terrorists.
The other events were the US decision to heighten its campaign against Iraq, the confirmation that Al Qaeda was active in countries stretching from Algeria to Indonesia, and the heightened ethno-religious tension against the Russian government in Chechnya and Dagistan. There was also the withdrawal of the US from the anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the decision to deploy theatre missile defence and national missile defence to which the Russians have reluctantly agreed.
The visit also follows the extension of USA’s political and military presence in the Gulf and in South and Central Asia. Recalling this is important because it shows that Putin is faced with the task of resolving the contradictions between his desire to make Russia resume a pre-eminent position in world affairs and the compulsions born of his anxiety to reconcile himself to the expanding political, strategic and technological influence of the US.
His visits to China and India are clearly an attempt to resolve this contradiction by creating a pattern of relations with major Asian powers, which would temper the assertive dynamics of USA’s dominance.
Assessed in this fashion, the concrete results of Putin’s latest visit indicates that there is a parallelism, even convergence, of interests between Russia and India. Putin has been more direct in acknowledging President Musharraf’s links with cross-border terrorism against India. He shares Vajpayee’s view about any punitive action against Iraq having to be under the umbrella of the UN. He has agreed to expand defence supplies ties between India and Russia, both in content and range, and has given his nod to cooperation in sophisticated spheres of technology about which the US and other western countries have some reticence.
This includes technology related to the peaceful uses of space and atomic energy, including the construction of 2,000 megawatt nuclear power stations in India, the project reports on which have now been completed, and the supply of what Russians term the fifth generation advance fighter aircraft and a whole range of military equipment.
The latest declarations made and agreements signed also strengthen the institutional framework for Indo-Russian trade, which stood at $1.26 billion in 1998-99. It went up to $1.57 billion in 1999-2000. Between 2000 and 2002, there has been a decline in the volume of trade, which now stands at $1.33 billion. This volume of trade is way below potential.
Putin made an interesting suggestion that the monies owed by India to Russia rooted in the credit arrangements at the time of the USSR be released to set up joint ventures in India which could meet both domestic needs as well as exports. In an overall sense, Indo-Russian economic ties in volume and content are much less than what India has with the West if defence supplies are left out.
We must acknowledge that while there may be an element of strategic considerations in Russia giving India defence supplies, the basic impulse is Russia’s need for foreign exchange. It is to be noted that the prospects of Indo-Russian defence and political cooperation should be assessed in the light of Russia’s defence supplies and cooperation arrangements with China, which is much larger, and its continuing commitment to sustain close ties with the US. Indo-Russian ties should be assessed within this framework.
At the macro-level, they are of significance to both countries. As far as India is concerned, we must recognise that despite the loss of superpower status, Russia remains a strong nation-state and has potential to re-emerge as important power in world politics. While Russia wants to consolidate its relations with the US and western Europe, it has concerns about a unipolar world dominated by the US. Therefore, Russia would like to sustain a strong relationship with countries like India and retain its influence, to the extent feasible, in Central Asia and West Asia. At present, it is equally interested in having a good equation with China and, more importantly, to some extent with Pakistan.
There is a convergence of interests between Russia and India on crossborder terrorism and threats to pluralistic nation-states. Russia remains an important source of defence supplies to India and of hydrocarbons, energy resources and technologies. It, therefore, should remain an important factor in our foreign and security policy calculations. —Indian Express