Russia and India in the Indo-Pacific
Asia-Pacific is a region of Russia’s vital national interests. It enjoys priority for the historical experience and traditions as well as the wealth of economic and cultural ties. One should also note that as a part of Eurasian continent the country does not detach itself from Asia that accounts for almost 80% of the Russian territory and nearly fifth of the Russian population. It is in the Asian part of Russia, where the lion’s share of its national wealth centers, ranging from timber, fresh water, and nonferrous and rare metals to oil, gas, coal, and diamonds, which also constitute a substantial portion of world heritage.
In the late first decade of this century changes in the Russian foreign policy priorities to Asia became even more visible. For instance, 2010 marked Asia as one of the foreign policy resources in modernizing the country, whereas earlier the EU and the US were the only subjects on the agenda.
In the meantime, until recently the Russian elite was mostly Europe-centric. Nevertheless, dramatic changes in the Russian public opinion (2014-2016 showed a three-times increase in negative attitude towards the European Union – to two-thirds of the interviewed) force the elite to review its approaches. Amid a worsening of the Russia-US and Russia-Europe relations, it became evident that in its confrontation with the West Moscow can only rely on the biggest non-Western countries, the principle ones being, of course, the Asian ones. After the Ukrainian crisis began, Western politics literally threw Russia in China’s arms.
India is a natural and objective ally of the Russian Federation, though their joint activities in the Indo-Pacific are somewhat limited primarily due to different approaches towards relations with the PRC.
The international community still does not recognize India’s status as a global power. Yet the Asian giant seems to have already become a global center of influence, but its realpolitik is still poor and the country is still generally following its balancing strategy, which has been typical for the bipolar period, too.
In order to be recognized in the new status and to strengthen its position of a regional leader, India is pursuing an active policy in the Greater East Asia. For almost a quarter of a century, the Republic is seeking to reinforce cooperation with the East Asian countries, with participation in regional organizations being the main instrument. It is not the economy (the Asian giant has little interest in economic integration processes), but politics that is the priority. That said the majority of the region sympathies with India considering it as a sort of balance to China’s influence. The South Asian country is also quite attractive from cultural and civilizational perspective.
One cannot consider the Asian giant as the main actor in East Asia so far, but its influence is increasingly growing, while its potential forecasts the process to continue.