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Shashank Mittal asked: How do US–Russia relations affect India?

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  • Rajorshi Roy replies: Over the last eight years, US–Russia relations have deteriorated to a historic low. The Ukrainian crisis has only added to the bilateral friction amidst fears of a redo of the Cold War era animosity and zero-sum game calculation. With their differences over Russia’s position in global affairs appearing fundamental, it is unlikely that a modus vivendi between the two Great Powers is in the offing in the near future. Such a scenario complicates India's foreign policy options.

    While Russia remains India’s traditional partner, India has, in parallel, qualitatively strengthened its engagement with the US. Today, there is no gainsaying that India’s ties with Moscow and Washington remain mutually beneficial and bolster India’s strategic autonomy.

    However, the pulls and pressures of the Russia–US confrontation have led to expectations in Moscow and Washington about India choosing sides. It was evident in President Joseph Biden singling out India for its “somewhat shaky" response to Russia’s military action in Ukraine. The US lawmakers have been critical of India’s abstentions at the UN. Meanwhile, Russia has released statements appreciating India’s “balanced position”.

    In this light, the unprecedented Western sanctions on Russia, anchored in the objective of enforcing a global economic boycott of Moscow, virtually targeting the entire Russian economy, including its defence sector, has made it challenging for India to do business with its traditional partner. The fears of secondary sanctions on private entities who have exposure to the American market would make it difficult for Indian companies to engage their Russian counterparts. Similarly, the spectre of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) will likely continue to hang like the proverbial sword of Damocles over India for its weapons purchases from Russia.

    Concomitantly, Western sanctions have also led to the prospect of the world staring at stagflation amidst significant exposure to Russian energy, wheat and vital rare earth minerals. It will be a challenge for India to firewall itself from these emerging dynamics amidst its recovery from the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Meanwhile, increased Western pressure on Russia will likely push it towards a closer embrace of China. A Russia–China tandem could significantly muddy India’s geostrategic calculus.

    Posted on 24 March 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.