The Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral front, ostensibly to fob off the preponderance of the US and the EU, is now being tested with its inherent pulls and pressures. China’s ingress at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, the killing of 20 of ourArmy personnel and its adamant claim on our territory have posited India at a knifepoint so precarious that this unique strategic partnership is in jeopardy. While India has used the RIC to emphasise the need for respecting each other’s sovereignty, China is pressuring Russia to scale down its defence supplies to us in view of the border escalation. Caught in the middle, Russia is delicately trying to assuage both without upsetting the autonomous bilateral relationship each nation has harboured with it. Neither can it boldly announce onesided mediation like US President Donald Trump and it has already clarified that both nations were evolved enough and have mechanisms to settle issues nor can it take a loaded position to the detriment of the otherside.And though it has of late taken note of India’s increasing strategic tilt towardsthe US to counter China’s mega ambitions in the region, it also needs India to counterbalance itself against Chinese heft. Besides, as a vibrant democracy, India is its best bet for creating a multi-lateral narrative. Ever since the Cold War, Moscow has remained our close ally and dominated the defence trade, providing everything from heavy duty equipment to spare parts, something which culminated in the landmark $5.4 billion S-400 deal. India stuck to thislast deal despite overwhelming pressure from the US and threats of sanctions and Russia acknowledges that. Just as it is aware that India is one of its largest importers of crude oil and LNG
However, there has not been much growth in our non-defence trade. Though both sides have now agreed to scale up trade to $30 billion by 2025, bilateral trade between Russia and China has already gone way past, registering a record high of $110 billion last year.And while India hassided with the US-led Quad alliance to tame China in the Pacific region, it has recently stepped up investment in the Russian far-east to strengthen its economic footprint. In acknowledgement, Russia invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the chief guest at the fifth Eastern Economic Forum (EEF). New economic partnerships are an indication that India is keen to alter the stasis that had set in old ties and wants to keep Russia invested in current geo-strategic contexts. Russia is keeping itself updated about the sensitivities involved and the fact that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh decided to attend the RIC meeting and the Moscow Victory Parade despite the COVID pandemic isindication of the strategic depth India attaches to Russia. The challenge for India will be to not rile the US too much, which is hot chasing both Russia and China over democracy restoration in their troubles spots and rights issues. If Russia, compromised economically as it is, is not able to convince China, then we would still need the US to internationalise and diplomatically scale up China’s wanton game.