India recently decided to pull-out from multilateral war games in Russia – KavKaz 2020. In an official statement, New Delhi cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason however, local media reports stated that China and Pakistan’s participation in the exercise was a major factor behind the withdrawal.
The exercise is scheduled to take place from September 15 to September 26 at Donguz training ranges in Russia’s Orenburg with at least 18 countries participating including China, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey apart from other Central Asian Republics who are a part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance by the founder members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) is a permanent body of SCO based in Tashkent.
India and China have been involved in a military standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. Firstpost reported that the decision was taken following deliberations between the top brass of the military and the ministry of external affairs.
“It’s unprecedented for India to decline any opportunity to showcase its decades-long strategic partnership with Russia, especially considering the fact that Moscow is supposed to occupy a crucial role in New Delhi’s “multi-alignment” strategy by balancing its ties with Washington,” wrote Andrew Korybko a Moscow-based American political analyst.
Korybko, while acknowledging that the Indian military could have been struggling in responding to this pandemic and thus couldn’t for whatever reason manage to send the roughly 200 troops that it was originally going to, he stated that India moved many times that a number of troops around the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China throughout the summer. “So it’s unrealistic to imagine that it can’t fly a few hundred out to Russia for friendly drills.”
The author also raised the possibility of New Delhi finally beginning to get influenced by Washington which has publicly sided with India on the border row with China.
“If India has been successfully swayed by America’s arrogant line of thinking lately, then it might have wrongly thought it’s better to pull out of Kavkaz 2020 than participate in this drill alongside China and Pakistan since Russia surely wouldn’t revoke its invitation to those two,” he stated, adding that India’s policy of “multi-alignment” might be more openly transforming into one of U.S.-alignment instead.
On the other hand, India will be hosting a bilateral naval exercise with the Russian Navy, in which at least three of its warships are expected to participate. The exercise will take place on 4-5 September at the Andaman Islands, during the days when the Indian Defense Minister will visit Moscow for the SCO meeting.
“This exercise isn’t just another hastily arranged naval exercise, it is a message, primarily to China. Even if India isn’t going to Kavkas, the links with Russia remain as strong as ever. Sure, there’s tension in Ladakh. But that doesn’t stop Russia and India from working closely together,” wrote Srinjoy Chowdhry, the National Affairs Editor for Times Now.
According to defence experts talking to the EurAsian Times who did not wish to be named, said that Russia is India’s strongest and most reliable ally for decades and three of India’s foes – China, Pakistan, and Turkey are expected to participate in the military drills.
By pulling out, India has conveyed to Russia its disinterest to associate with regional foes while at the same time, New Delhi has given strategic space to them, especially to Pakistan who is desperate to befriend Moscow which opinion-makers in New Delhi should have blocked.