CSMS Magazine Staff writers
Earlier this month, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev laid out his grand plan to move Russia’s economy into what many watchers are calling “the modern age” with the aim of overcoming the aging Soviet industrial era. Speaking inside the Kremlin great hall and before a litany of Russian law makers, religious leaders and his mentor and predecessor Vladimir Putin, Medvedev, in his annual state-of-the-nation address, made it clear that the path created by Putin is here to stay. He also sent a stern warning to the opposition. Any attempts to upset the current order will not be tolerated,” he said under the gleeful eyes of the oligarchy. To reassure the country’s nouveaux riches, he ordered a sweeping modernization of the Soviet-built military arsenals while calling for a “pragmatic” foreign policy aimed at attracting investment and improving living standards, rather than “chaotic actions driven by nostalgia and prejudice.”
The Russian bourgeoisie has learned its lesson from the Chinese as well as from the colossal blunder of Mikhail Gorbachev. While the nostalgia for old ideology has long faded—if there were any—the quest to maintain its super power status has constituted the cornerstone of Russian foreign policy. Only this time, the work is being done in two folds: revamping the country’s strategic deterrence while pushing Russia toward a westernized, capitalist economy. The latter will certainly provide Mother Russian the clout and the respect the country so desires as well as dissolving entrenched animosity cherished by former Warsaw pact countries against their estranged friend. “We mustn’t puff out our chest,” Medvedev noted. And he went on to say that “we are interested in the flow of capital, new technologies and modern ideas.”
Medvedev conceded that the aging Soviet industrial base can no longer be sustainable, and using it to draw most of its revenues from exports of oil and gas, while trusting its security to Soviet-built nuclear arsenals is not acceptable. “The nation’s prestige and welfare can’t depend forever on the achievements of the past,” he said. The Russian president went on to stress that what the country needs is strategic innovation, including research on new nuclear reactors and space technologies. That was not all, Medvedev, in a move to heal the country’s wounded pride, called on Russians to get ready to flight to other planets. It looks like Medvedev intends to cling onto Soviet prestige without mentioning it per say, for until 1917, Russia was nothing but a backward country with imperial ambitions ran by a feudal monarch.
The Russian president wants to speed up the modernization of the military-industrial complex, and he intends to start as early as next year, when he plans to commission 30 intercontinental ballistic missiles, three nuclear submarines and several dozen combat aircraft, among other new weapons—a substantial increase by comparison to last year. Well aware of the devastating downturn that the country oil- and gas-driven economy took as commodities prices plunged to new lows late last year. Russia emerged from recession in September with its gross domestic product still 9.4 percent below year-earlier levels— months after its European neighbors.
RIC strategic partnership in peril
When Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boarded his aircraft with his entourage earlier this month and warily began the 6,000-kilometer journey home from Bangalore, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka, he appeared visibly disturbed as some of the few journalists, who accompanied him, noticed. Lavroy, a shrewd politician, who seldom leaves the ring empty-handed, is reportedly a no-match, second to none. Few of his peers can match him in political brinkmanship mastered over decades in international diplomacy. He was on his way back home from attending a meeting of the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral format.
Desperately trying to fulfill a long international standing aimed at preempting U.S. eastward extension, Moscow has doubled its effort in recent months to draw India and China closer together on a common regional initiative over Afghanistan. The RIC meeting in Bangalore was held against the backdrop of an eight-year war in the Hindu Kush Mountains that spilled over several neighboring regions that include the Caucasus and Central Asia, China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province and Pakistan’s tribal areas. But the endless Sino-Indian love/hate relationship spoiled the show in Bangalore, as powerless Russian diplomats watched with great dismay their fruitless effort to bring closer together Beijing and Delhi on the geostrategic issues of regional security went up in smoke. They seemed to overlook the disequilibrium within the RIC format would impact the Bangalore meeting. While Russia and China are intensifying their cooperation on several fronts, India, in the post-Cold War era, has largely watered down its ties with Russia. This is done in part of India’s geostrategic ambition in Central Asia. However, India and China, have tightened their cooperation over the last ten years, although the issue of housing Tibetan exiles on its soil, have somewhat strained their relationship.
It seems odd to believe that RIC lacks its raison d’être. Three important countries with common interests and concerns in the Asian continent join together to find the perfect framework to combat terrorism and religious extremism as well as to coordinate their policies. But the Indian elite, largely pro-western based in Bombay, seems to think otherwise. The Indian nouveaux riches somehow have missed an altruism: Within the new version of a multi-polar world, regional cooperation has emerged as the quintessential leitmotif of international politics. Finding unifying agendas is holistic in all intellectual and political probity, and India sets to lose if the RIC ultimately whither and dies.
John Bolton, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies based in London, asserts that India’s reticence should be understood, knowing its problematic relationships with China and Pakistan. “[India’s] nationalist isolationism is reducing India to being a bystander when momentous regional processes are unfolding. There has been a systematic attempt by influential sections of the Indian strategic community to deride or downright rubbish and undermine India’s involvement in regional processes – such as the RIC – that exclude the US or towards which Washington remains antithetical,” Bolton affirms.
Truly, Afghanistan remains the game changer for both Central Asia and South Asia partly for being the gateway to both regions, and knowing India’s archaic view of the Taliban, it stands to lose the most in the event of a military and diplomatic breakthrough in Kabul. The issue of recognizing the Taliban as a political reality in Afghanistan is an open secret, as Washington is now openly talking about integrating moderate Taliban fighters (whatever that means) into the country’s political fold. The Taliban is a product of the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services) created in the early nineties as a counterweight against Russian and Iranian influences in Central Asia. So, it is conceivable to understand that India cannot countenance a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s power structure.
“But then, the Afghan conflict is first and foremost a fratricidal strife, and an enduring solution needs to be all-inclusive. Besides, who are Indians to prescribe what is good for the Afghan people? Delhi would have gained by working together with like-minded countries that broadly share India’s misgivings about the ascendancy of radical forces in the region and yet accept the inevitability of a broad-based pan-Afghan settlement,” asserts James Labey, journalist for the Asia Times. True enough, China and Russia work within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. On top of that, Russia controls the Collective Security Treaty Organization made up mostly of former Soviet republics of Central Asia. While India is poised to become the biggest loser, Washington may turn out to be the biggest winner in the event of the RIC’s total collapse.