New Delhi, 15 July 2018 – The extent to which the return of geopolitics continues to disturb the view on sustainable development and cooperation among nations became clear at a recent roundtable discussion in the Indian capital. Jointly organised by the Indian think tank Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS) and the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC RI), the subject was ‘India-Russia Bilateral Relations in a Global Context’.
In his keynote address, DOC Chairman Vladimir I. Yakunin spoke of the need for new and strong leadership in the non-Western world, particularly in India, Russia, and China. The task at hand is to tackle changing international paradigms after the end of the unipolar world order. The era that began with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, came “to an end between 2007 and 2017”. Hence, the leaders of non-Western nations face multiple challenges: finding and defining their place within global governance structures, continuing the development of their countries and, probably the paramount task, identifying economic models that will not further increase social inequality. Yakunin stated that “dialogue informed by a sense of equality would promote a development paradigm, as opposed to a growth paradigm”.
A prominent position of Yakunin’s regarding the future of civilisations belongs to what he calls the ‘Eurasian Development Belt’ – incorporating the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as the North-South Corridor, the latter of which is a joint project by Russia, India, and Iran, and other similar initiatives. “Such projects”, Yakunin stressed, “should simply not be articulated as infrastructural projects…I suggest moving beyond assessments based on GDP growth and statistics”.
While the DOC Chairman underlined the importance of Western cooperation, using bilateral ties but also the BRICS and other multilateral platforms, the Indian roundtable participants tended to dampen his expectations. Clearly there was an elephant in the room: China. For decades the Sino-Indian relationship, marked by serious border disputes, has been deteriorating. Among the issues are China’s assertive stance on the South China Sea, the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and Indian opposition to the Belt and Road Initiative. Obviously, the trifecta of Russia-India-China is in a much less stable state than is visible at first sight. Ramesh C. Chopra, Major General with the Indian army, challenged Yakunin on two contentious issues: “I would like to know Russian policy towards Pakistan and China in context of Chinese military support to Pakistan and also on the ongoing Doklam stand-off…Our concern is Chinese violation of state sovereignty. What is the Russian view on these matters”?
Ambassador Yogendra Kumar, another participant from India, put it even more bluntly: “With respect to the BRICS model that has been discussed, however, we should note that China is now talking of a G2 relationship, a great power relationship in which neither India nor Russia figure. This is between China and the US…Looking at the suggestion for the BRICS’ role as a new instrument for shaping the global order, we can take the Doklam crisis as an illustration of its improbability”.
The frankness of the roundtable discussion shed light on the rising tensions resulting from China’s new engagement in power politics. As they increasingly impair the prospects for cooperation and development, Russia’s mediating capabilities may well be in stronger demand soon. With good relations with both India and China, as well as Iran and the Central Asian governments, Russia can still emerge as tomorrow’s Eurasian peace broker.