Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Is India’s ‘Old Pal’ Russia More Reliable Than QUAD Ally US As Covid-19 Crisis Escalates?

India’s ‘old friend’ Russia was quick to offer help while its newer QUAD ally, the US, is sending aid after a lot of back-channel talks as the South Asian country is battling a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Moscow’s support to New Delhi during a phone call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 28.

Meanwhile, the first batch of Russian aid materials is set to reach India by April 29. The first batch of Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, is also expected to be received two days later, earlier than initially expected.

Russian Emergency Ministry will deliver more than 24 tons of equipment, including 20 oxygen production units, 75 ventilators, 150 medical monitors, and 200,000 packs of medicine through military aircraft.

While daily cases had been rising for the past few months, they witnessed an intense upsurge around the second week of April when it surpassed the peak of the previous wave last year.

Sputnik V was immediately approved by the Indian government on April 13 after experts started talking of a second wave. This was possible because the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) had partnered with Hyderbad-based Dr. Reddy’s in September 2020 to conduct clinical trials of Sputnik V in India which have reached their Phase III.

RDIF had also partnered with Virchow Biotech Private Limited, Stelis Biopharma Pvt Ltd and Panacea Biotec separately to produce about 500 million doses per year in total.

The US also had agreed to a similar collaboration a month ago during the first-ever summit of the US-led bloc, QUAD.

The US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) had announced that it would finance Indian manufacturer Biological E’s effort to produce at least 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022 under the flagship of the Quad Vaccine Partnership.

But the Biden administration had been very hesitant to reach out when India had asked for help initially even when India’s “adversary” China had tried to reach out. Till this week, all the US had to provide was “sympathy”.

The Eurasian Times had reported earlier that Trump’s rhetoric of “America First” seems to have found resonance in Biden as he also evoked the US Defence Production Act to curb exports. This goes counter to the sentiment of global benefit shared during the QUAD summit.

While the US has vaccinated more than 40% of its population, Russia has only inoculated around 7% of its people, a lesser rate than that of India. Despite this, Russia did not hold back on its aid.

The US has now, after a public campaign on social media and a more private one of backchannel diplomacy, agreed to soften its stand. Washington is air-lifting oxygen generators, concentrators, Remedisivir anti-viral drug to India on an urgent basis along with making raw materials for vaccine production available to India.

But the damage has already been done. Washington’s initial reluctance has raised questions about its reliability as India’s partner in the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) bloc, a four-nation informal alliance to counter China’s rising influence and aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

On the other hand, American adversary Russia was quick to offer help and now India-Russian relations have moved up to the level of 2+2 dialogue of foreign and defense ministers, a privilege that India has shared only with other QUAD members till now.

In a series of tweets, Modi said they reviewed diverse bilateral cooperation, especially in the area of space exploration and renewable energy sector, including in hydrogen economy.

Russia is exploring ways to produce emissions-free hydrogen and create a 153 billion-euro ($175 billion) a year market by 2050, according to a Bloomberg report.

Modi appreciated the Russian support for India’s Gaganyaan or unmanned space program  and the completion of the Russian phase of training of the four astronauts for India’s first manned space mission.

Putin is scheduled to visit India later this year for the India-Russia bilateral Summit, which would provide an occasion to continue their “personal and trusted conversation”.

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