India and China can resolve boundary issues bilaterally, Russia will not mediate, experts opine

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Published: June 23, 2020 9:02 PM

The tensions between India and China have been growing since the May 5/6 standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.


Rajnath Singh, Russia, India China RussiaDefence Minister Rajnath Singh met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Yury Ivanovich Borisov in Moscow on Tuesday, June 23. (Photo/ANI)

Will Russia play the role of a mediator between India and China? The tensions are soaring high between the two countries since June 15/16 when Indian army and PLA lost personnel in violent clashes.

India and Russia need each other to maintain equilibrium. “Russia, being castigated often enough by the EU and US, definitely needs India in the geopolitical arena, while New Delhi needs the Russians for strategic ends. With economies of both countries sliding south, they need each other more than ever,” says Brig SK Chatterji (retd).

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in his ongoing visit to Moscow will surely want to make the best of the opportunity.

The tensions between the two sides have been growing since the May 5/6 standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.

RIC Video Conferencing

The foreign ministers of Russia-India-China had their first virtual conference on Tuesday. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, from India S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi were present in the meeting.

The conference took place amid tensions between India and Russia escalating which had resulted in the loss of 20 Indian Army personnel on June 15/16. Though both countries have stated that they need no third party intervention to resolve their boundary related issues, there has been an expectation that Russia would talk to China.

Since Russia has maintained close ties with both China and India, last week it had expressed its concerns over the clashes and expressed hope both allies resolve issues bilaterally.

What do experts say? Will Russia mediate?

No, say experts.

According to Brig SK Chatterji (Retd), “The visit of the defence minister Rajnath Singh to Moscow has come at an opportune moment. Attending the Victory Day Parade with an Indian contingent provides the right backdrop of our historically strong relationship. This is the right time for him to raise issues related to the heightened tensions between India and China, with the Russians.”

“Off late, the Russian-Chinese relationship has been strengthening with the US being viewed as a common threat. Further, the Indo-Russian friendship has been diluting with our relations with the USA, firming up. However, 70 per cent of our imported defence equipment is of Russian origin and we depend on Russians for spares and technology to maintain and upgrade them. Russians also share a huge boundary with the Chinese, and it serves to pin down a large portion of the Peoples Liberation Army; much to our advantage,” the army veteran opines.

In the view of Brig Chatterji “With the situation along our borders showing all the signs of a prolonged confrontation, Rajnath will focus on the early materialisation of deliveries of critical equipment like the S 400 Air defence System. He would also be keen to ensure that the spares of Russian Su-30MKIs and MiG-29s aircraft is provided urgently to maintain higher serviceability levels of our squadrons. Incidentally, we enjoy an edge over China in terms of airpower resources that can be employed in Tibet. IAF also has the topographical advantage with its air bases being in the plains and closer to the LAC, as compared to Chinese bases in Tibet at altitudes of 4000 meters that have a telling effect on the efficiency of their fighter aircraft.”

However, “The obstacles that Rajnath faces is the fact of the Russia-China trade being almost 10 times that of our mutual trade, which inhibits Russians displaying any strong stance in India’s favour. The Russian economy is already stretched, especially with the US sanctions and crude prices far lower than they had anticipated. Russians have also been hit hard by COVID 19. Russia now has the third-largest number of cases and leads the world on a number of new cases being detected,” Brig Chatterji opines.

Says Prof Rajesh Rajagopalan, School of International Studies, JNU, Delhi, “Russia is unlikely to be very helpful to India in the current situation with China. Despite our close ties with Russia, especially in the defence sector, Russian interests require them to support China, or at the least, not do anything to damage their relationship with Beijing. India has to understand this. Russia feels under pressure from the West and the US. Much of this is because of Russian aggressiveness and actions, such as its interference in US elections, its invasion of Ukraine, its support for the regime in Syria, its killing of Russian dissidents who escaped and so on.”

“Whatever the reasons, and despite Moscow’s own worry about China, it is dependent on China. India needs to understand this.’’

On the role of RIC, he adds, “So RIC is also of limited utility because we can expect Russia, at best, to play a neutral role, and possibly even support China. This has been evident for several years. India needs to reduce its dependence on Russia military equipment.”

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