Russia, which has long been away from the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean, has now decided to include it once again in its foreign and maritime policy. Significantly, there have been several recent events that highlight Russia’s growing strategic interest in the Indian Ocean. Due to the relations between India and Russia, on one hand this policy of Russia is visible in favor of India, on the other hand, some developments in this regard have also raised India’s concern.
Russia’s changing policy
- Last week, a Russian Navy training ship, Perekop, arrived at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, clearly highlighting Russia’s interest in the Indian Ocean.
- However, if Sri Lanka’s decision to allow entry into Hambantota is viewed from India’s point of view, it is a welcome move, as India is already concerned about China’s growing influence over Hambantota.
- At the end of October last month, long-distance Russian ‘Black Jack’ airplanes flew to South Africa, with the main objective of the visit being to strengthen the military ties of the two countries, particularly air military ties.
- The ongoing Sino-Russian-South Africa joint maritime exercise in South Africa can be considered as the most important recent development in this regard and many analysts are considering it a concern from the Indian point of view. Significantly, this tripartite naval exercise is named Moris.
- This is the first time that India’s three partner countries (other than Brazil) in the BRICS are conducting a similar exercise.
- According to experts, this practice reflects the growing influence of China and Russia in South Africa and the increasing political distance from West to South Africa.
- Simultaneously, Iran has also announced that it is also planning a joint naval exercise with China and Russia in the Persian Gulf.
Russia and Indian Ocean
- Be aware that Russia is located far away from the Indian Ocean, but Russia has always played an important role in the geo-strategy of the region.
- During the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union showed considerable activism by deploying the Navy in the Indian Ocean. Although the region was not focused on the latter for some internal reasons after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in recent decades it appears that Russia is reworking its policy towards the Indian Ocean.
- Due to limited trade and security ties in the Indian Ocean region, Russia has always been given very little space in the geopolitics there. However, it cannot be denied that Russia, being a global power, has significant economic and strategic interests in this region.
- At the formal level, in 2015, Russia issued a strategic document called ‘Marine Doctrine of the Russian Federation’. Significantly, this document deals with Russia’s interests in the maritime sector.
- It is important to note that this document considers the Indian Ocean as one of Russia’s priorities and sets three long-term objectives to serve Russia’s interests in the region:
- Developing navigation for shipping and fisheries with the nations located in this region.
- To conduct marine scientific research in Antarctica to strengthen Russia’s position.
- Promote peace in the region.
- In the last few years, the Indian Ocean has become the seat of power among some powers of the world and experts believe that this change will definitely affect Russia’s interests.
- Firstly, any such conflict or serious tension in an important region like the Indian Ocean will affect not only the security and prosperity of the regions but also the interest of the entire world in the long run.
- Apart from this, Russia has good relations with both India and China and it will be relatively difficult for him to choose either one, so Russia would like to always have peace in the region.
Russia’s maritime policy and India
- The maritime principle of the Russian Federation states that the development of friendly relations with India is the most important goal of Russia’s national maritime policy in the Indian Ocean region.
- It is known that recently the two countries had also entered into an agreement to develop the sea communication route between the ports of Chennai and Vladivostok.
Geopolitical landscape of Indian Ocean
- The Indian Ocean region has become a hub of global activity in the last few decades for various reasons. Be aware that the major trade routes of the world pass through here.
- The choke points of the Indian Ocean are considered to be strategically important in the world. According to a study, more than 80 percent of the world’s oil is traded through these choke points in the Indian Ocean.
- Prominent among them are the Hormuz, Malacca and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
- This region is not only important for trade, but currently more than half of the world’s armed conflicts are being seen in this area.
- The region is not only known for the ongoing power competition between India and China, but also issues like conflict and terrorism between India and Pakistan and many other issues remain at the center of discussion.
- As a result of this, almost all the major powers of the world have deployed sufficient military force in the region. Some experts consider the region one of the most dangerous areas in the world.
- It is important to note that the Indian Ocean serves as the major sea route connecting the Middle East, Africa and East Asia to Europe and America.
- 40% of the world’s oil and gas reserves are located in this ocean. Its full of resources makes it a center of economic importance. Minerals like gold, tin, uranium, cadmium, cobalt, nickel are also found here in this region.
India’s policy towards Indian Ocean
- The geographical location of the Indian peninsula makes India an important party in the region. The peninsula of India is surrounded by the waters of the Indian Ocean from three directions.
- India reaches Europe via its west coastal ports through Africa, West Asia, Iran and the Suez Canal, and through eastern coastal ports to Australia and Southeast Asia.
- According to statistics, India imports around 70 percent of its oil through the Indian Ocean.
- According to experts, so far India’s policy on the Indian Ocean has mainly focused on increasing competition with China.
- It is noteworthy that this policy has resulted in the rapid expansion of India’s naval cooperation with regional allies such as Indonesia and Singapore, besides the United States (USA) and Japan.
Russia can affect the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean
- Experts agree that although Russia will never be able to completely dominate the region, it still has the ability to influence the geopolitical situation of the Indian Ocean region.
- It is to be noted that Russia is one of the most prominent arms exporters in the world, establishing it as a major power in the region.
- The success of Russia’s military intervention in saving Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad has attracted the attention of many countries struggling to deal with the civil war.
- Being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Russia protects many nations against Western pressure. Russia’s strong support for the principle of non-interference in internal affairs is very important for many African countries.
- Russia’s energy and mineral companies provide important options for resource development in the region.
Indian view of Russian policy
- Analysts believe that Russia’s activism in the Indian Ocean region is in India’s favor and the government should welcome it. But there are some challenges in this regard which need to be discussed.
- Russia’s deep tensions with the West and strong strategic ties with China can cause problems for India.
- India’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia and the threat of US sanctions clearly illustrate tensions between Russia and the US.
- India’s continuing emerging Sino-Russian naval and maritime partnership has also not received due attention.
- Significantly, in the last few years, China and Russia have done many naval maneuvers in the Western Pacific Ocean, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea.
- The recent maneuvers of both countries (Russia and China) with South Africa are also raising India’s concerns.
- Therefore, there is a need for bilateral dialogue between India and Russia on cooperation and other issues in the Indian Ocean region at the earliest, so that India and Russia together can explore new possibilities of development in this area.
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