China and India’s strongest defense ally, Russia, reportedly conducted a series of military exercises in the sub-zero temperatures of the Siberian mountains.
According to Nikkei Asia, the Sayan March 2021, part of the Russian-led International Army Games, was organized between April 15 and 17 and saw the participation of about a dozen Chinese troops from the People Liberation Army’s 78th Group Army.
The increasing Chinese military maneuvers near the Taiwan Strait and the massive Russian military build-up near the Ukrainian border have put both countries in the crosshairs of the US.
With the US being their common rival, Moscow and Beijing have sound reasons to get closer. China also happens to be the biggest Asian investor in Russia but the proximity of Moscow and Beijing is seen more like a friendship of convenience than a concrete alliance.
Nonetheless, will the growing ties between China and Russia strain the latter’s relationship with its oldest ally, India, given that the latter’s territorial disputes with Beijing?
There has been an unsettled border dispute between the two Asian neighbors, which has led to frequent military confrontations in the Himalayan region, including a war in 1962.
In February, the two countries agreed to disengage their troops from a friction point in eastern Ladakh ending their 10-month-long military standoff.
However, China continues to deploy advanced weapons near the border with India. The PLA has recently confirmed the deployment of advanced long-range precision-strike rockets close to Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.
Russia being India’s oldest military ally has largely taken a neutral stance in the India-China border conflict.
India-Russia relations are largely based on their defense cooperation which dates back to the Cold War era. Although India has recently reduced arms imports to promote indigenous defense production, Moscow continues to be its major arms supplier.
According to the latest report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India’s arms imports have decreased by 33 percent between 2011-15 and 2016-20 and the Russian imports have taken a considerable hit.
The reasons were largely said to be the Modi-led government’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative to promote home-grown weapons.
Although India has consciously diversified its new arms trading partners, the bulk of the defense equipment still comes from Russia.
Also, New Delhi seems to be going ahead with its S-400 missile defense system deal with Moscow irrespective of threats of US sanctions.
Since the military-technical ties formed the bedrock of India-Russia’s relationship, the dip in arms imports from Russia may not be a sound proposition, some experts argue.
India needs to deepen its ties with Russia using other means such as leveraging multilateral forums to produce mutual benefits and diplomacy because Russia plays as an important balancer between India and China where New Delhi cannot afford to lose Moscow’s support.