[Modi and Putin in a more congenial mood in St. Petersburg]
President Vladimir Putin comes hither to summit with Modi at a time when bilateral relations are strained. This may be gleaned from the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s rather curt response to a question about the status of the S-400 and other deals. The “sovereign” decision on this or that Russian military hardware acquisition, he said, was Delhi’s to make in its own time at its own pace. This is all very well but he couldn’t keep out the note of exasperation with the distinct turn southwards in bilateral relations. In the event, whether Moscow will continue playing ball and handing over advanced armaments to India every time Delhi feels the need to give the impression of a foreign policy not overly tilting to the US is another matter.
Many retired military men trained in Russia, fluent in the Russian language, and with intimate knowledge of Kremlin’s strategic calculus seem to be strangely complacent. A former naval theatre commander, for instance, is vehement in claiming that Indo-Russian relations are on such sound footing that they are virtually immune to the momentary winds buffeting them this way and that, and, moreover, that deals for sensitive equipment such as leasing a second Akula-II class nuclear powered attack submarine are on track notwithstanding the potential danger these systems may be exposed to from COMCASA type accords India has signed with the US.
Such thinking tends to paper over the real sense of unease in Moscow about an India that simply cannot be relied upon anymore to know and act on its own best interests and to stick to its traditional median course. Throwing a bone or two Putin’s way by periodically buying Russian weaponry may not cut it any more. This will not however mean that Putin —always acting on the long view — will show his displeasure when they meet Oct 4. He loses nothing by letting Modi unspool the relations if the latter is so inclined, because Putin knows that the BJP govt in its last year of untrammelled power will not go beyond a point when plummeting ties with Russia could become a political and electoral issue.
This is so owing to Kremlin’s current policy of reviving Russia’s prospects and burnishing its international stature. It depends centrally on Russia once again becoming the nodal power in Europe to complement China’s rise in Asia, thereby hamstringing America. Trump’s mercurial policies alienating US’ NATO allies are helping Putin cement the belief in European states that their military and energy security may be best guaranteed not by confronting Russia but by sensible policies that play off Moscow’s strategic imperatives against Washington’s tactical policy moves — the very strategy shortsighted Indian governmentntury have given up on in the new Century when, in reality, it is still the only big power political game with currency. With the main European powers, Germany and France, preferring such policies and its attention diverted at the two ends by Russia and China, the US is growingly convinced —given the Modi regime’s bent of mind — that herding India into its corrall without having to distance itself from an old partner Pakistan or make any concessions whatsoever (on trade, H1B visas, on selling only dated military goods newly accoutred with bells and whistles to impress a determinedly Third World government and military) will somehow correct the emerging geostrategics.
Far from being mindful of the pitfalls ahead, Modi ploughs on, convinced for reasons not entirely clear, that he has more traction with Trump than do Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron! But there’s no cure for delusional beliefs and equally delusional policies.