Crossroads Asia

Can Russia Keep Its Balance Between China and India?

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Crossroads Asia

Can Russia Keep Its Balance Between China and India?

Russia claims that its military drills with India are not against China

Can Russia Keep Its Balance Between China and India?
Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Service

When China and India have shown no signs of deescalating the tensions in the Doklam area, Russia is trying to keep its balance between China and India.

As The Diplomat reported, India and Russia are going to hold a large military exercise from October 19 to 29 in Russia. On August 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry told China’s national news agency Xinhua that the upcoming Russia-India exercise is not against China.

During the weekly briefing, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova replied to Xinhua:

Russia does not carry out military exercises or other cooperative events that may lead to worsening relations of a country we maintain multilateral ties with… Russia always provides all interested parties with comprehensive information, in order to stop any speculation on such issues as soon as possible.

Another Russian expert expressed something similar to Xinhua, too.

On August 15, Sergei Yermakov, deputy head of the Military and Political Studies Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the India-Russia drills “ have been held regularly since 2003. They are announced in advance and details are made known.” The expert also noted that the recent Russian-Chinese naval exercises took place in the Baltic Sea, which was far from Russian and Chinese “domestic bases.”

What the expert and the spokeswoman said might be true. But they forgot to mention other facts too: that it is the first ever combined force drill, and that it will be located in Russian mountainous far east, which is very close to China.

In addition, Russia keeps sending signals to India that the relations between Russia and India are more important than that between Russia and China (although it’s understandable that Russia has never and might never expressed that to China).

According to the Indian newspaper The Economic Times, Ekaterina Semenova, First Secretary in the Russian Embassy in India, claimed that the relationship between Russia and India transcends any new friendship that may be formed, adding that “an old friend is better than two new friends.” (Ironically, her remarks came at the time when Russia was selling Pakistan four Mi-35M attack helicopters.)

If the remarks above could still be regarded as a private talk between “two old friends,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public statement is definitely an official version of Russia’s position.

According to Tass, in the congratulatory message that Putin sent to India’s President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, Putin vowed to strengthen privileged strategic partnership and tackle important regional and global issues with India. Other than military cooperation, Russia and India are also planning to boost business in Russia’s far east.

That being said, so far, both India and China seem to be fine with Russia’s balancing act, and Russia seems to still be able to handle the the standoff between China and India quite well. Zakharova expressed “absolute confidence”  that “New Delhi and Beijing, as responsible members of the international community, will be able to find mutually acceptable ways to quickly resolve the tensions.”