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Russia Factor in India’s China Strategy

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On October 19, 2021, D. Bala Venkatesh Varma, the Indian ambassador to Moscow, said that New Delhi’s evolving bilateral relations constantly with Washington should not be a concern for Moscow.[1] As a matter of fact, Russia considers that it will shift completely to the Western axis, especially with India joining the QUAD formation, and is concerned that it will engage in a direct conflict with China. The Indian ambassador stated that they want a peaceful solution to the border dispute with China, that their consultation with Beijing is ongoing and that the next foreign minister-level meeting will probably be between Russia and India-China via video conference.[2] At this point, it is seen that Russia has stepped in as a mediator actor in the India-China tensions. On the other side, India is trying to use Russia as a balancing factor in its relations with the United States and its strategy against China.

In order to make sense of New Delhi’s pursuit of this balance, it is necessary to follow the historical line in foreign policy. Since Prime Minister Nehru, who founded the Non-Aligned Movement, India has made the idea of fighting imperialism and solidarity with third world countries one of the basic principles of its foreign policy. Since the 1990s, it has developed a “Look East” policy to balance China. However, he tried to maintain the disconnection line at the same level.

At this point, India has had to choose between “staying non-align” or “choosing an alliance” in foreign policy. The New Delhi administration, which has developed constructive, balanced and equal policies with both Russia and the United States for a long time, has started to struggle to maintain this balance due to the growing Chinese threat. In this context, India’s role in QUAD formation has raised concerns that it may shift to the West-US alliance. The concern is most expressed by Russia, where India has developed good relations in order to balance China for many years.

Russia is concerned that India will shift to the Western axis by joining a NATO-like formation. On the other side, India understands that it can no longer fight China alone in the region. In this respect, India needs especially the support of the United States and the mediation of Russia. In this case, New Delhi is struggling to maintain its non-aligned foreign policy. Nevertheless, India is trying to develop equal relations with both the United States and Russia in its regional policies. However, it is not easy to do this without disturbing the two rival countries. So, India is increasing its contacts with Russia to prevent misunderstandings about its participation in the QUAD and the Chinese strategy. It can be argued that these regular meetings of the Foreign and Defense Ministers of India and Russia have a purpose beyond resolving bilateral misunderstandings. In this context, the India-Russia rapprochement could mean sending a message to both the United States and China.

Russia states China will continue to sell weapons to India, its main rival in the Himalayas. India urges Russia to be involved in security consultation mechanism in Indian Pacific.[3]  The Moscow administration considers New Delhi’s invitation to be Washington’s request. In other words, Russia thinks that not in line with India’s own interests; India is acting within the scope of the U.S. strategy of China and U.S has invited India to the Indo-Pacific for this purpose. As a matter of fact, Russia’s really bothered subject about is that the United States wants to make China a competitor on international system through QUAD formation. In other words, Russia does not want the QUAD to transform as an “anti-China” front.

One of the most discussed issues in the Russian press is the transformation of the QUAD into a NATO-like structure. To correct these misunderstandings, New Delhi told Moscow that “QUAD, created to discuss security in the Indo-Pacific and avoid possible conflicts, is not a NATO-like structure. India is not acting under the guidance of the United States and is not possible to be on the axis of the West.”.[4] In this meaning, India wants to reassure its bilateral relations with Russia. Moreover, the two countries have a lot in common points in their Asian policies.

For instance, Russia agree on ensuring Afghanistan’s security and preventing terrorism.[5] Both countries also have similar reservations about cooperating with the Taliban. Moreover, the Kremlin administration does not want an Afghanistan under Pakistani influence. In other words, Moscow wants to lose control of Afghanistan to neither Pakistan nor China. For this, Russia needs to cooperate with India against both Pakistan and China.

On the other side, India feels besieged by China. For this reason, New Delhi may ask Russia to block or stop China and offer to work together on China. Because Russia will not want China to be effective in Afghanistan through the Taliban. If the Taliban choose to work with China in Central Asian politics, Russia will need India to balance it.

After all, Russia wants to change the balance of power by developing cooperation with China’s biggest rival and the United States’ closest ally. On the one side, India is close to the Russia-China axis; it wants to be the central power in the Indo-Pacific by cooperating with the US-Western alliance. In short, the most important axis that will change the balance in the international power struggle is the Russia-India alliance. However, Russia will not want to confront China entirely. Nevertheless, Moscow will want to at least disturb the United States by getting closer to India. New Delhi may want to anger both China and the United States by taking Russia with its side.


[1] “India’s Growing Closeness to US Should Not Worry Russia: India’s Ambassador to Moscow”, India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/india-growing-closeness-us-should-not-worry-russia-ambassador-moscow-1866776-2021-10-19, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2021).

[2] Aynı yer.

[3] “India Wants Russia to Join Indo-Pacific Initiative to Signal It’s Not Just a US-Centric Plan”, The Print, https://theprint.in/diplomacy/india-wants-russia-to-join-indo-pacific-initiative-to-signal-its-not-just-a-us-centric-plan/468853/, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2021).

[4] “Quad Is Not ‘Asian NATO’, India Never Had ‘NATO Mentality’, Jaishankar Says”, The Print, https://theprint.in/diplomacy/quad-is-not-asian-nato-india-never-had-nato-mentality-jaishankar-says/639924/, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2021). 

[5] “India, Russia on the Same Page on Taliban-ruled Kabul”, Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-russia-on-the-same-page-on-taliban-ruled-kabul-101631071068273.html, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2021).   

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.