India’s need to engage with Russia in Indian Oceanic region

India’s need to engage with Russia in Indian Oceanic region

Russia is rejoining the major power scrum in the contested littoral.

Russia’s strategic importance in Indian Ocean

  • Three recent events highlight Russia’s growing strategic interests in the Indian Ocean and should compel Delhi to think of its consequences for India’s own regional strategy.
  • Previously a  training vessel named Perekop arrived at the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and two, Russian long-distance “Black Jack” nuclear bombers flew to South Africa. This is the first time these aircraft have been deployed to Africa.

Significance of the events

  • The Russian and the Chinese are conducting a trilateral naval exercise with South Africa in the strategic waters off the Cape of Good Hope. Called, Moris.
  • The exercise reflects the growing weight of China and Russia in South Africa’s security calculus.
  • Iran made its plans to hold joint naval drills with Russia and China in the turbulent waters of the Persian Gulf.

India and Indian Ocean

  • Until now, Delhi’s discourse on the Indian Ocean has been focused on the growing competition with China, whose maritime profile has been growing in the littoral.
  • India has also been developing a partnership with France, a resident power in the littoral and a traditional security provider in the Western Indian Ocean and Africa

Russia’s role

  • Russia’s return to the Indian Ocean is relatively recent as it must be a part of its new strategic activism in the Middle East and Africa.
  •  Five decades ago, as a rising Soviet Russia sought to enter the Indian Ocean littoral amidst the British withdrawal from the east of Suez, it set off concerns in the region about being sucked into the superpower rivalry.

Limits to Russia:

  • Russia is a vast continental state and its limited access to the sea remains vulnerable to exploitation by its adversaries.
  •  The unfreezing Arctic will present new opportunities for Russia, but most of them are for the long-term.
  •  Russia is also constrained by its limited economic resources. China, Japan, Europe and the US bring far greater economic weight to bear upon the region.

Opportunities after Russia’s presence in the Indian Ocean

  • Largest arms exporter- Moscow is one of the world’s major arms exporters and has turned that into an effective leverage in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Military intervention in Syria– The success of Russia’s military intervention in Syria in saving Bashar al Assad regime has attracted the attention of many countries in the littoral struggling to cope with civil wars.
  • Russia’s security role – Russia’s growing security role — including the use of hybrid forces — in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mozambique are a testimony to this.
  • Naval diplomacy in the region – Russia has stepped up its naval diplomacy in the region, making regular visits to ports in the region and deepening special relationships that it already has with countries like India.
  • Diplomatic protection – As a permanent member, Russia also offers diplomatic protection for many regimes in the UNSC against Western pressures on such issues as human rights.
  • Energy Resources– Russian energy and mineral companies do offer important options for resource development in many parts of the littoral.

Way ahead:

  • Over the last few years, China and Russia have conducted impressive naval manoeuvres in the Western Pacific, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.
  • The joint exercise with South Africa brings the unfolding Sino-Russian naval partnership closer home to India. 
  • India needs an early and intensive dialogue with Moscow on its Indian Ocean collaboration with China.

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