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Russia-India-China: Strategic triangle

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Russia, India, China, commonly referred to as R.I.C is a group of leading economically powerful nations currently positioned at 11th, 5th, and 2nd positions respectively. The strategic triangle of these nations has been the center of geopolitics in the past few years, more so with china’s rise and rhetoric of the ‘Asian century’. These nations have mostly followed a ‘zero-sum game’ form of diplomatic relations. While China and India hold the world’s largest populations, Russia comes at the top when it comes to territory. When it comes to the projection of power on the global stage, both Russia and China hold the UNSC permanent seat and India is a strong and prioritized contender for entry into it

Permutation of relations in the strategic triangle


India on ‘diplomatic tightrope’ with Russia

Historical friendship: Russia and India hold a historical and time-tested relationship that started even before the end of the cold war in 1991. Both nations have deep cultural linkages and share people-to-people relationships. For India, Russia acts as a counter to US hegemony which can be seen in India buying of S-400 missile system from Moscow despite threats of CAATSA sanctions from Washington while for Russia India is not only a crucial partner because of its strategic geographic presence and rising economic prowess but it is also the 2nd largest market for Moscow defense Industry.

Balancing between Washington & Moscow: Relations between Moscow and New Delhi seemed strained as India drifted toward the west to counter ‘china expansionist policy and rising power’. India’s relations with the US rose to new heights with the formation of the Quad which Russia regarded as ‘Asian Nato’.Coinage of the term ‘Indo-pacific’ and increased partnerships of India with western European nations do not go well with New Delhi’s old friend. However, India indirect support Russia in the Ukraine crisis by abstaining from the UN vote on Moscow, buying Russian oil, and rupee-ruble transactions aimed at bailout Moscow from western sanctions proving the age-old partnerships remain intact. India is currently walking a ‘diplomatic tightrope’ to reach both its objectives of maintaining the friendship with Moscow & also counter China’s rise by closeness with the US. 

Enemy of the enemy is a friend: China-Russia friendship

United against the US: The relationship between Russia and China reached new heights with the identification of a similar enemy: the US. Both nations aimed to counter western influence in Central Asia and the USA’s vision of Indo-pacific. Further western sanctions on Russia as a result of the annexation of Crimea have further pushed it into ‘Beijing’s lap’. China’s support of Russia in the Ukraine crisis and its investment of $5bn in the backward Russian far east region further strengthen relations with Moscow.

China-Russia friendship

The bone of Contentions: However, China’s increased presence in the Central Asian region can give a sour throat to Russia which has declared the region as a ‘Privileged zone of influence’. Region’s nations trade with Beijing triggered to $41.7bn twice that with Russia, furthermore most of the nations like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are already trapped in china “debt-trap diplomacy“. China has begun to identify itself as a ‘Near arctic state’ and increased its engagement with countries in the region. It established research stations in Iceland & Norway for the exploration of oil in both countries. China’s Huawei in agreement with Telegreeland is set to lay a 100g network subsea cable in the arctic. With assistance from Finland, china built its 2nd icebreaker vessel. China’s growing presence, influence & commercial ties in the region can strain its ties with Russia which prefers the Arctic five format {Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the US} over the Arctic Council to discuss the arctic. 

China's growing presence in arctic region

Backward leap in relation: India-China

Confrontative situation: Relations between India and China have taken a giant downturn from the 1960s slogan of ‘Indians and Chinese are brothers’ to the banning of more than 50 Chinese apps by India in 2021-22. Relations further strained with border conflict starting with doklam standoff and recent Galwan clashes. India joining of the quad, its opposition to the nine-dash line through which china claims ownership of the South China sea, and Beijing’s encirclement of India through strong relations with new Delhi neighbors {acquisition of Hambantota port of Sri Lanka, granting 99% duty-free import to Bangladesh and CPEC with pakistan}further degraded relations between them.

Will relations survive: India’s dependence on China for 80-90% of API and constant bilateral talks have helped relations remain alive. However, India’s policy of ‘Self-dependency’ and adoption of hardline against china makes it tough for bilateral relations to survive going down the road. 

Russia-India-China: Chaos or Equilibrium 

India and China’s support of Russia in the Ukraine crisis and maintenance of strong relations are aimed at gaining ‘strategic leverage’ at the global level. While Russia supports India for a permanent seat in UNSC, it works as a united front with china against the US. Russia’s role in the strategic triangle is to maintain a ‘Balance of relations’ between India and China as it regards both as one of the top 5 friends. Diplomatic Balancing is necessary so that the strategic triangle does not devolve into strategic chaos and is not used by a third party like the US to further influence regional politics. While the alliance of these three elite powers seems impeccable it is nearly impossible given diverse interests in the heated geopolitical arena.

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