Disclaimer: This is an independently written article by the author without allegiance to any political party, ideology or government.
Many things happen that appear to be destined with the least human controls to shape the future of the world. The Ukraine Crisis seems to be one such event that has huge consequences for everyone.
More importantly for India, there are various scenarios that are emerging as Putin gets stuck in Ukraine while the US and Europe play sanction games. In a way, it is good that America has not tried to engage and fight with Russia directly. On the other side, China has remained unfazed and is continuing business as usual with Russia. American firms such as Apple and Disney have reduced their business in Russia after the country invaded Ukraine but Chinese technology firms have remained silent on the issue. The Chinese media is called the event as special military operations rather than invasion and also has focused on Negotiations, streaming live rather than war attacks and sufferings.
It is obvious that one country that will get maximum mileage from the crisis irrespective of the outcome is China. This is what we term as divine plan.
Russia and China have become bosom friends and is not new now. The manner in which Russia moved its forces away from its eastern borders adjoining China, something that we highlighted before the Ukraine crisis is a case in point.
The visit of Pakistan to Russia on behalf of China is another point that cannot be missed.
Let us take the two extreme scenarios first:
1. Russia wins comprehensively notwithstanding sanction
2. Russia loses and has to retreat.
We don’t wish to speculate on which scenario will emerge and from a pure probabilistic event will give a 50:50 to each of them for our academic research sake. The Chinese are playing their part very smartly. They know that either way they are going to gain. In fact, they get the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. While the event gives it time and clues to fine-tune their own strategy like a pre-war simulation they also get Russia to weaken the Americans. We recommend an excellent study and analysis by Brookings – The Long game: China Grand Strategy to Displace America’s order .
The Americans have always been naïve to understand the Asian mindset and that is the reason it suffers in this part of the region. It just doesn’t have the right kind of DNA to understand an Asian game. The Chinese are very very PATIENT and there is always the cover-ups and sweet talks for the real intention. America must realize that it is dealing with a 4000 plus old civilization that has learned hard lessons through centuries of war and other activities.
The rise of China over the years is not a fluke and has happened after careful study of their strengths and weaknesses, plugging the gaps cleverly. They have also taken notes from US- USSR cold war and the disintegration of USSR that Xi has referred to his party colleagues often with lament.
The difference between Putin and Xi again comes to light here. Putin is individual fighting for his own ambition, security as well as to strengthen his hold in Europe. He sees America as a threat to the very existence of Russia.
On the contrary, Xi is working on a planned script with the precise methodical strategy of being a global power replacing America, He is not alone in this and the whole politburo with all its components are behind this work. Putin may be smarter but XI is cold and patient which is more dangerous from American point of view. China is pursuing the policy of Regional as well as Global order while Russia is restricted to Regional security.
There is a difference between the two leaders and nations represented by them. Let us make no mistake about it. Putin was almost pushed to attack Ukraine directly /indirectly by the inclusion of more members to NATO, while China has been trying to expand its borders without provocation from NATO. This is an important distinction that America has to keep in mind. Russia and Putin are going down the hill since 1991 while China and lately Xi have been climbing steadfastly since then and more so during Xi’s era.
It is also important to recall what the Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew old about China when asked about its ambitions to rule the world. His answer was simply Why not justify it through some facts and figures.
Coming back again to the two scenarios said before, in case 1, China will stand to benefit as its relationship with Russia gets a boost while Putin also personally acknowledges the stand of China during the crisis notwithstanding that of India, as China has stood more taller and firm than India. China can request compromises with Russia vise versa India which the Kremlin feels obliged to oblige.
In case 2, Russia becomes weak and China gets more maneuvering power to deal with its neighbor. It can dictate terms with Russia more dominantly.
This is of course broadly speaking, however, if one does micro analysis then too China emerges as the winner during these episodes. .
The Russian also did something that has sent a wrong message to others in the category. By declaring the eastern region as independent that has given away to some other nations. China which has been watching the developments with great attention is most likely to pick some cues. It can be most likely applied to Taiwan, but India also remains on the line of fire and we may have to be extra alert on Arunachal Pradesh as well as the Ladakh region. Most of the geographical borders have remained unsolved and ambitious leaders will always try to expand them.
India has to continuously engage the Americans for sure on their part while the Americans have to take things in its stride a little bit. That is the best way going forward and hoping that the roads will ultimately merge smoothly in the future. To thrust or try to blackmail and or threaten each other by brute force and verbal statements will help neither and may send the relationships back to the Nixon days again.
After huge efforts during the past decade and of late both sides have been comfortable with each and other that paved the path for the signing of the QUAD and bringing it to life. The EAM Jaishankar is a career IFS officer and is thorough and thoughtful in his approach. PM Modi is a person who keeps the nation first. Therefore the Americans must trust India and allow the temporary events to go by without affecting the relationship. Both the countries must try to see the future course of events and deter China to do any misadventure which is a greater danger.
The best thing to do now will be for a peace talk with Russia that allows Mr Putin some security cover for his concerns. One mistake that the Americans cant take off their shoulder is the way they have treated the Russians always with a shrug. It is time that the Americans respect the Russians for whatever they are and get over from the cold war era.
Instead, it has to focus single-mindedly on China where the real threat lies.
We recommend the Op Ed piece in Times of India by Derek Grossman -India should reconsider the benefits of a close relationship with Russia and argues that India should be in the US camp taking most of the counter arguments and also giving fresh points to ponder. While the author is correct in his assessment to say that India must abandon Russia it is a bit premature statement coming from America at the present stage of affairs.
Both America and India need each other strategically not only to tame China but also for a peaceful and prosperous world going ahead. The country can complement in multiple manners. Therefore America must hold its breath and not allow the present turn of events to jeopardize the strong yet fragile relationship between the two nations.
Certain things are best to happen the way time progresses and should not be pushed. The Indo US relationship is progressing very well and the signing of QUAD along with regular meetings ( one was held just yesterday) is a sign of growing trust and mutual benefits. However, some events have always the potential to play the devil and then the statements coming from various actors makes it more hazardous.
America must look at China as a larger threat than Russia notwithstanding the present turn of events.
America is vulnerable to making wrong decisions when it comes to Asia. To beat the holy cow for the Wolf is a sheer absurdity which will not gain anything.
India and America can work together for global peace and prosperity and have to take some shocks during the course of the journey. Meanwhile, India has to make itself more self-reliant – Atma Nirbhar .