Russian and Indian policymakers are trying their utmost to bridge the divide between their corresponding Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) and Indo-Pacific visions, which the other increasingly regard as a cover for advancing their American and Chinese rival’s strategies, respectively. Moscow suspects that India’s leading role in the US’ Indo-Pacific policy is secretly intended to contain China, while New Delhi fears that Russia’s stated intent to synchronize its GEP with Beijing’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) does more to promote the interests of the People’s Republic than the Eurasian Great Power’s. The emerging outcome is that the special and privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India seems to be weakening, which is against both of their interests.
The solution is therefore to find common ground between these two visions and actively work towards synchronizing the two in order to restore trust between them and therefore contribute to enhancing strategic stability. On the surface, this might appear difficult to achieve considering how compellingly each of their surrogates have argued that their counterpart’s cooperation with their respective rival is against their historic ally’s interests. Both claim that the other is voluntarily subordinating themselves into becoming another Great Power junior partner. These observations hit their ally’s prestige very hard since they question whether the accused country is truly sincere about implementing the sovereign policies that they publicly claim to support.
There are three dimensions in which Russia and India can jointly cooperate in the Indo-Pacific in order to ease the other’s growing suspicions and send powerful signals to their new partners that they aren’t ever going to become anyone else’s junior partner. What will soon be proposed in this piece is intended to form the basis for a new era of strategic partnership between them that isn’t aimed against any third parties but could nevertheless contribute to balancing such actors’ pertinent policies that might be perceived by some as disadvantageous to others. This should hopefully prompt other experts to conduct their own brainstorming on this topic in order to perfect the proposals below before pitching them to decision makers.
The economic front of Russian-Indian cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is considered the least threatening to any third party and can be advanced in three interconnected ways. Firstly, Russia should do more to incentivize India to invest in its resource-rich Arctic and Far East regions. Secondly, India can then reciprocate this goodwill gesture by attempting to convince its Japanese ally to let Moscow take part in their joint Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), perhaps even pioneering trilateral projects in those two regions. Thirdly, Russia and India can increasingly rely on the new Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor (VCMC) to expand trade between them prior to pursuing joint projects in the ASEAN space that sits in the middle of this new connectivity route.
The next dimension is the diplomatic one which could see both Great Powers working closer together in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) with a potential view towards unofficially creating a core group of countries within it (Neo-NAM). This informal network of partnerships could rely on Russia and India as crucial third-party balancing forces to improve such states’ negotiating positions between the American and Chinese superpowers. As the New Cold War between the latter pair heats up, the dozens of countries caught between them in the Global South will urgently look for reliable balancing partners like Russia and India as pressure valves for preventing themselves from becoming arenas of intense Sino-American competition in the coming future.
The final front of Russian-Indian cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is the military one, which is the riskiest of the three. Those two already plan to export the jointly produced BrahMos supersonic missiles to the Philippines, which is embroiled in a fierce territorial conflict with China in the South China Sea. So too is Vietnam, which is also reportedly on the list of potential buyers for this potentially game-changing weapon. Selling such arms to countries engaged in maritime disputes with China is risky since the People’s Republic might perceive this as a passively – aggressive move from both of them even if all that they intend to do is restore the regional military balance as they understand it to be. As such, Russia and India should tread very cautiously on this front.