Thursday, December 11, 2014

India Russia Relations / C. Raja Mohan

When he met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, in July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apparently told him that every child in India knew Moscow was Delhi’s best friend forever.
As they sit down for a longer and substantive conversation in Delhi this week, Modi and Putin know they have a problem. The geopolitical circumstances that bound India and Russia close together for so long have begun to change. The structure of the partnership, too, is looking less special amid extended stagnation. Modi, who has boldly moved to rejuvenate India’s ties with America and Japan and devised a more positive approach towards China, must now go back to basics on Russia and find productive ways of boosting bilateral relations in an adverse regional and international environment.
In Moscow, it was Putin who saved the relationship from becoming irrelevant to both countries. In the 1990s, India found it hard to get post-Soviet Russia’s attention, as Moscow sought to integrate itself with the West and build a “Common European Home” stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific. Much hard work of Indian diplomats and strong faith in Delhi’s political class helped sustain the relationship with Russia through the difficult decade. It was only when Putin took charge of Russia at the turn of the new millennium that the bilateral relationship took a turn for the better.
The tension between Nato’s relentless expansion eastwards and Moscow’s determination to restore its traditional sphere of influence in the “near abroad” has been gathering for a while and finally boiled over in Ukraine this year. The idea of a Common European Home stands shattered. Russia and the West are finding it difficult to restore the rules of the road invented at the end of the Cold War in Europe, during 1989-91, or devise new ones that are acceptable to both sides. If the crisis in Europe lasts too long and Russia drifts away from the West, there will be new constraints on India’s foreign policy. There is no question of Delhi supporting Western sanctions against Russia, but the secondary effects of these measures are likely to corrode India’s ties with America and Europe.
India avoided endorsing Putin’s annexation of Crimea by force in Ukraine and then legitimising it by a “referendum”. After all, Delhi is rejecting Pakistan’s demands for a “plebiscite” in Kashmir. But you don’t want to reproach your friends in public. Delhi, therefore, kept quiet, much in the manner that it refused to publicly criticise Moscow when it sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979.
If there is a new Cold War between Russia and the West, India might find itself in a cleft stick. On the one hand, India’s economic stakes in the partnership with the West have rapidly grown and those with Russia, steadily diminished. Beyond the important defence and strategic trade, there is little commercial content in bilateral ties. Changing that has long been a priority for Delhi and Moscow. Modi and Putin, one hopes, can do better.
The changing geopolitical dynamic, meanwhile, is casting a shadow over the strategic ties between Delhi and Moscow. When Soviet Russia made enemies around the world in the 1980s, Indira Gandhi began to reduce Delhi’s excessive dependence on Moscow for arms supplies and Rajiv Gandhi accelerated the search for the diversification of India’s strategic partnerships.
Russia, however, retained its special position by supplying the kind of technologies no other country was prepared to supply to India. Consider, for example, Russian assistance to India in building the nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant. Although Modi is looking for stronger defence ties with the United States, there is no possibility that it can replace Russia in the near term.
But India’s relations with Russia are complicated by one important consequence of the unfolding conflict between Moscow and Washington. It is Russia’s strategic embrace of China, which is likely to have many implications for India. For one, Russia has begun to boost defence ties with China and is exporting technologies and systems that it once reserved solely for India. More broadly, by lining up behind China on global issues, Moscow is making it harder to construct a stable balance of power in Asia. Worse still, an America preoccupied with Central Europe and the Middle East might be compelled to consider compromises with Beijing in Asia.
Put simply, Russia’s conflict with the West pushes both of them towards a rising China and improves Beijing’s leverage in all directions. Making matters worse for India is Russia’s new strategic warmth with Pakistan. This has been in the making for a while. Quite clearly, neither Delhi nor Moscow can insist, any longer, on an exclusive partnership.
The India-Russia political partnership, which had expanded from the 1960s, took place amid deepening Sino-Russian hostility and Pak-China amity. Given an unreliable America, Russia was India’s principal insurance against the security challenges from China and Pakistan. If Moscow continues to fight with the West and draw closer to China and Pakistan, there is a real danger that India’s long-standing romance with Russia might turn sour. Preventing an irreversible drift in that direction should be on the top of the agenda for Modi and Putin.
As hard-boiled realists, Modi and Putin must acknowledge the new dynamic around them, find ways to limit its impact on the bilateral relationship and move quickly towards expanding the scope of their commercial ties and revitalising their cooperation in energy, defence and high-technology sectors.

The writer, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, is a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

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Though India is one of the six countries where the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A(H5N1) is considered endemic in poultry and several places in Kerala are favourite destinations for migratory birds, the State remained outbreak-free until recently. But on November 20, Kerala was robbed of that status when two outbreaks in ducks occurred in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts, with the virus killing over 20,000 birds. Incidentally, this is just the second instance of H5N1 outbreak in South India; the first outbreak occurred in October 2012 in the Central Poultry Development Organisation near Bengaluru. Most of the outbreaks since 2006 have been in West Bengal and the northeastern States, primarily due to cross-border transport of infected birds from Bangladesh, a hot-spot for H5N1 outbreaks. The H5N1 virus has infected seven people and killed one in Bangladesh between 2003 and 2013. For now, culling of nearly 260,000 birds in the villages where the outbreaks occurred, together with intensive surveillance in a 10-km radius around the epicentre of the outbreak have prevented the spread of the virus. But there is an overwhelming need to continue the intensive surveillance as ducks have been infected. Domestic ducks, which have long been recognised as one of the primary reservoirs of the virus, are responsible for the spread and outbreaks of H5N1.
According to two studies published in the journal Veterinary Research in June 2013 and November this year, unlike in the case of chicken, disease presentation in ducks depends on the H5N1 subtype and the bird species; the way the immune system responds to the virus infection in the two birds is vastly different. As a result, while most subtypes of H5N1 cause severe disease in chicken and kill nearly all of them, even clinical manifestation of infection is absent when certain species of ducks are infected with particular virus subtypes. Unlike chicken, which die, ducks not only turn out to be perfect hosts for the virus to survive but also provide an ideal environment for diversity to emerge through genetic reassortment of the virus. As of now, H5N1 infection in humans is “sporadic” and human-to-human transmission has not been reported. But a lethal reassortment of the virus can change all that. Hence, the death of thousands of diseased ducks and the prompt culling are reassuring steps. Now that the spread of the infection has been stopped, at least temporarily, concerted efforts should be directed at finding out the virus subtype and the duck species. The need to investigate if other duck species have been infected and for continued surveillance cannot be overstated, especially since duck-rearing is widespread in Alappuzha district.