29 APRIL 2021
Russia’s decision to dispatch emergency COVID-19 aid to India proves how reliable it is in comparison to the South Asian state’s newfound American ally, the latter of which dillydallied while New Delhi urgently pleaded for assistance to help its suffering people survive the latest viral wave that came crashing into the country.
The whole world is watching the latest COVID-19 outbreak in India with serious concern after the country suddenly emerged as the latest epicenter. New Delhi urgently pleaded for assistance from its allies to help its suffering people survive the latest viral wave that came crashing into the South Asian state, but its newfound American ally dillydallied while its historical Russian one rushed to its aid without any preconditions. This contrast of commitment speaks volumes about which of the two sincerely cherishes its ties with the world’s second most populous country, which should hopefully result in a reconsideration of India’s recent strategic priorities.
Up until this year, India was stridently siding with the US on practically all relevant matters apart from its continued commitment to go through with its planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems. The South Asian state is a proud member of the US-led Quad and arguably envisions becoming its Asian leader in pursuit of its allies’ shared goal of containing China. The Electoral College’s certification of Joe Biden as the next US President threw a wrench in India’s long-term plans since its strategists anticipated that Trump would come out on top instead. The new reality is such that India doesn’t feel as prioritized by the US as before, hence why it sought to recalibrate its multi-alignment policy in response to this perception.
The end result was that it reached near-simultaneous deals with neighboring adversaries China and Pakistan in February regarding a synchronized disengagement with the former and a ceasefire with the latter. This was followed up by hosting Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier in the month for talks to confirm the strength of their strategic partnership and organize the annual Russia-India Summit between their leaders sometime later this year. Perhaps out of jealous reaction to these developments driven by its hegemonic habits, the US Navy violated India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) during a so-called “freedom of navigation” operation (FONOP) and sent the message to New Delhi that it can only ever hope to be Washington’s junior partner.
Coupled with growing disappointment in India over both sides’ failure to reach a long-discussed trade deal, the US’ latest dillydallying over its belated decision to dispatch COVID-19 aid to its partner might be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back and gets New Delhi to more meaningfully recalibrate its multi-alignment policy. What’s meant by this is that India now realizes that the US doesn’t even care about its people’s lives since it wouldn’t even take the easy soft power opportunity to be among the first to send relevant assistance to the country. It can’t be known for sure why this was, but it certainly seems to be the case that this was yet another American punishment in response to India’s increasingly independent policies as of late.
By contrast, the only credible gripes that Indians have about Russia is that the latter is more confidently practicing its regional “balancing” act which should at least in theory be complementary with India’s own (which it calls multi-alignment). Unlike the US, the manifestation of Russia’s newfound approach doesn’t endanger any Indian lives nor infringes on the country’s territorial integrity. It also doesn’t consist of unilateral sanctions threats in violation of international law like the US’ ones about the S-400s. Russia is also very eager to clinch a comprehensive trade deal with India, which could even be broadened to include the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAU). The US, on the other hand, is playing political games with its trade talks.
There’s no doubt that so-called “vaccine diplomacy” is nowadays part of International Relations whether states officially recognize it or not, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing if it’s proactively practiced and not undertaken with any strings attached. To explain, Russia’s vaccine exports are intended to serve as an opening to comprehensively expand bilateral ties with each of its partners, while the US seemingly withholds such aid for political reasons until its partners either make unilateral concessions or the situation becomes much too scandalous that it can no longer continue such a policy without intense international scrutiny. With the Indian example in mind, Russia’s “vaccine diplomacy” is much more moral than the US’.
This objective observation should give Indian strategists cause to think about whether the current direction of their multi-alignment policy is in line with their country’s long-term national interests or not. Remaining so focused on the American vector of this vision despite being slapped around by the US so shamefully this past month, not to mention in such a dangerous way with respect to Indian lives literally being on the line, arguably isn’t advancing their intended goals since they’ve received nothing other than limited military support in exchange for submitting to America over these past few years. It would therefore be much better if India seriously considers the wisdom of cooperating more closely with Russia in support of the Eurasian Century.