Will Russia remain neutral in the conflict between China and India?

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The defense ministers of China and India met in Russia during the Victory Parade in Moscow. The meeting takes place against the backdrop of sharply worsened relations between Beijing and New Delhi and the deaths of twenty Indian troops during a clash with Chinese forces in the Galvan Valley. How Russia turned out to be an ally of the two rival powers, and whether it can maintain neutrality in the event of a conflict, says the author of the India Today television channel.

Before traveling to Moscow, Chinese and Indian ministers stated that bilateral issues would not be discussed during working meetings and festive events in Russia. However, looking at them it is difficult to forget that a few days ago, Indian troops received orders to respond to any violation of the status quo at the border in an emergency, without requesting additional orders from the command.

There is a peculiar historical irony in that representatives of two nuclear powers whose conflict could grow into World War III meet at the Victory Parade in honor of the end of World War II.

Before leaving for Moscow, Indian Defense Minister Rajnat Singh tweeted:

“I’m leaving for Moscow with a three-day visit. A visit to Russia will give me the opportunity to negotiate on ways to further deepen the Russian-Indian defense and strategic partnership. I will also be present at the 75th Victory Parade in Moscow.”

Russia is a common ally for both India and China, and many are now asking themselves: who will Moscow support in the event of a possible clash between these countries?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, it would seem, gave an exhaustive answer to questions of this kind when he said that India and China did not need outside help to solve long-standing problems between their countries.

“I do not think that India and China need outside help. I don’t think they need help, especially when it comes to the problems of these countries. They can solve them on their own” Sergey Lavrov said at a virtual meeting of the RIC foreign ministers (Russia-India-China) on Tuesday, adding that this is about recent events.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also made several important statements at the virtual tripartite meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India, China and Russia.

Wang Yi said that China supports the idea of ​​Russia to hold the first meeting of defense ministers of China, Russia and India to increase the level of cooperation in the field of defense and security. He recommended the establishment of a tripartite mechanism for ministerial dialogue in the areas of economics, trade, energy, transport, education, culture and health; as well as create a group of experts and celebrities to submit proposals for deepening triangular cooperation.

The Chinese Foreign Minister also noted that it is important to maintain a global industrial supply chain, which can be seen as an allusion to the “boycott China” campaign that has begun in India, with a call to abandon the use of Chinese goods.

For his part, Indian Foreign Minister Subramaniam Jaishanqar also spoke quite bluntly:

“Today, the problem (of international relations – approx. Ed.) Lies not only in concepts and norms, but also in their practical implementation. The leading voices of the world must be exemplary in every way. Respecting international law, recognizing the legitimate interests of partners, supporting multilateralism and promoting the common good is the only way to build a lasting world order.”

However, despite the positive tone of the statements and the emphasis on the need to deepen trilateral cooperation, becoming a political platform for negotiations between the two powers, while taking a neutral position, may not be so simple for Moscow.

The visit of the Indian Minister of Defense, undoubtedly, aims to deepen cooperation with Russia and accelerate the procurement of military equipment necessary for India to confront China, as well as strengthen strategic partnership between the two countries, in addition to Russian-Indian defense cooperation.

China has already indicated its dissatisfaction with the potential increase in defense supplies from Russia to India in the current situation. The Chinese newspaper “People’s Daily” stated that “if Russia wants to soften the hearts of both the Chinese and Indians, it is best not to supply the weapons of India in sensitive moments.”

India is expected to ask Russia to expedite the delivery of the S-400 missile defense system. The S-400 is one of the most sophisticated Russian long-range land-to-air missiles and, possibly, the most versatile in the world.

In India, a common understanding of relations with Russia is that between the two countries historically have friendly relations, and if India has a dispute with any country, Russia will come to the rescue.

But is that so? Will Russia be able to openly oppose China, with which it has numerous economic and political ties, on the side of India, supported by Russia’s traditional political rival – the United States?

A number of Indian experts believe that Russia is too weak now economically and desperately needs China’s help to get on its feet. In such a situation, Russia cannot openly support India, and if tensions escalate, the USA will be the only country capable and ready to tame the “dragon”.

Some experts in India still remember that in the 1962 war between China and India, the USSR officially took a neutral position, but in fact supported communist China. Is it possible to maintain Russia’s real neutrality in the event of an exacerbation of the current conflict? It seems unlikely that Moscow will go against Beijing if it makes a direct demand to stop supporting India through the arms trade.

The choice of the USSR in 1962 was described as a choice between a brother (China) and a friend (India), and in many respects this metaphor remains true. According to 2018 data, imports from China accounted for 22% of all goods delivered to Russia, while imports from India were only 1.4%. Over the same period, exports to China accounted for 13%, and exports to India – 1.7%.

Most likely, India will have to learn that the best guarantee of political friendship is extensive economic ties and ramified trade relations.


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