India is among the few places in the world where the Soviet legacy endures with some strength.
- Russia marks two anniversaries — the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union and the 31st anniversary of its dissolution. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, the Soviet Union was proclaimed on December 30, 1922. Until its dissolution on December 26, 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as it was called, had an outsized influence in world affairs.
Ways to adjust to the tectonic shifts
- Delhi will inevitably find ways to adjust to the tectonic shifts in the world order triggered by Putin’s misadventure.
- On the left and centre of the Indian political spectrum, the Soviet Union has been viewed purely through the ideological lens of progressive politics — nationalist, internationalist, communist and anti-imperialist.
- Within the strategic community, the conviction that Russia is India’s “best friend forever” leaves little room for a nuanced view of Russia’s domestic and international politics.
Five factors might help lend greater depth to Delhi’s Russian discourse:
- The religious and messianic impulses in Russian history and the deep-rooted pan-Slavism that have so neatly dovetailed with the post-Soviet image of Russia as the vanguard of global revolution.
- Second, the Indian debate that has long viewed Russia as anti-imperialist is reluctant to engage with Moscow’s own imperial history.
- The third missing element in the Indian debate on Ukraine is the nature of the relations between Russian nationalism and other ethnic minorities.
- Fourth is the enduring autocratic impulse in Moscow that is rooted in the stalled democratic revolution.
- Fifth is the idea that Russia has no borders.
- The idea of securing Russia through a “sphere of influence” in the “near abroad” comes naturally for leaders in Moscow.
- But most of Russia’s neighbours, unsurprisingly, do not want to be part of it.
- The resentments against Moscow’s domination are deep-rooted on Russia’s periphery, especially in Central Europe.
- The closer you are to Russian borders, the greater your need for external balancing against Moscow.
- Although the ideas of “territorial sovereignty” and “strategic autonomy” come naturally to Delhi’s discourse, the Indian foreign policy community has had little sensitivity to the demands for freedom from Russian domination in Central Europe.
- That in turn can be explained by the fact that independent India tended to view east and central Europe through the eyes of Moscow.
- As the tragic Russian war against Ukraine enters the 11th month and there is an exploration of the terms of a potential peace process, reconciling Russian security concerns with those of Ukraine and its Central European neighbours will be hard.
- The concerns and convictions on both sides are strongly held and so antithetical.
India’s interests in Russia are many and will endure even as its stakes grow in Central Europe that is gaining greater strategic weight and the political agency to shape the future of Eurasia. To understand how the war in Ukraine might play out and its longer-term consequences for India, Delhi’s discourse must pay greater attention to the turbulent history of Russia and its troubled relations with its Central European neighbours.
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