Speculation About Russia Becoming A Chinese Puppet Ignores India’s Decisive Balancing Role
Gabuev’s piece plays to the wishful thinking fantasies of his targeted Western audience, but the fact is that his analysis is fundamentally flawed because it completely ignores India’s decisive role in helping Russia preemptively avert the same disproportionate dependence on China that he already takes for granted.
The Narrative About Russian Vassalhood
Foreign Affairs, the official magazine of the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), just published a piece titled “China’s New Vassal: How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner”. It was written by Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose think tank’s Moscow branch was closed down earlier this year for violating local legislation. According to him, Russia has become disproportionately dependent on China since the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict that began with the onset of its special military operation in Ukraine, which he predicts will lead to Beijing inevitably leveraging their increasingly asymmetrical relationship to coerce Moscow into unilaterally conceding on its objective national interests.
Specifically, Gabuev wrote that “To keep China happy, Russian leaders will have little choice but to accept unfavorable terms in commercial negotiations, to support Chinese positions in international forums such as the United Nations, and even to curtail Moscow’s relations with other countries, such as India and Vietnam.” One of the reasons for this is because “The Chinese currency will become the de facto reserve currency for Russia even without being fully convertible, increasing Moscow’s dependence on Beijing.” That will “grant China tremendous leverage, and it will be able to extract concessions from Russia that previously would have been seen as absurdly one-sided” in energy talks, which could force Russia “to be vocal in its support for China’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea”, et al.
The Carnegie expert is also convinced that the special and privileged Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership will soon become a relic of the past. Gabuev believes that this is because “India continues to drift away from Russia toward democracies in the Indo-Pacific and Europe”, which implies that Delhi is allegedly driven by ideological desires to distance itself from Moscow. As a result of these shifting dynamics that he predicts will soon unfold, “Beijing will be able to extract from Moscow something that was unthinkable a year ago”, with one of the scenarios that he predicted being “Russia’s support—as a permanent member of the UN Security Council—for China’s positions in all regional and global issues, most notably in territorial disputes between China and its neighbors”, which also obviously implies India.
The Fundamental Flaw
Gabuev’s piece plays to the wishful thinking fantasies of his targeted Western audience, but the fact is that his analysis is fundamentally flawed because it completely ignores India’s decisive role in helping Russia preemptively avert the same disproportionate dependence on China that he already takes for granted. Without acknowledging this paradigm-changing development that’s already been in force for nearly the past half year yet still remains largely unaddressed by Western commentators and those ideologically aligned with them like Gabuev, it’s impossible to produce accurate analyses about Russia’s role in the global systemic transition to multipolarity. The present article will thus seek to correct perceptions by informing readers about the reality of Russian-Indian relations that Gabuev ignored.
India’s Game-Changing Intervention
The first thing that everyone should be aware of is that India has proudly rebuffed all American pressure upon it to lower its ties with Russia. Delhi declined doing so because its truly sovereign leadership will never unilaterally concede on any issues of objective national interest like its strategic partnership with that Eurasian Great Power, which External Affairs Minister Jaishankar reaffirmed on several occasions. This includes the American Consulate in Mumbai’s egregious demand that India not allow Russian ships to dock at its ports, which Delhi publicly objected to. Far from distancing itself from Russia, India has doubled down on that dimension of its multipolar grand strategy by importing literally fifty times more oil from Moscow and prioritizing the revival of the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC).
About that megaproject, Russian Transportation Minister Vitaly Savelyev described it in late May as one of his country’s only remaining corridors to the global economy. It recently entered into operation over this summer and will serve as the physical basis for assembling the third pole of influence in the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition to multipolarity that Russia and India are jointly striving to create alongside their shared Iranian partner through which the NSTC traverses. In parallel with this, those three major countries also plan to inspire a new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”) for helping fellow Great Powers as well as comparatively medium- and smaller-sized states alike balance between the American and Chinese superpowers.
Unlike what Gabuev wrote when he claimed that “The aging ruling elite in the Kremlin, myopically fixated on Washington, will be even more eager to serve as China’s handmaidens as it rises to become the archrival of the United States”, the reality is that this same elite has always been laser-focused on defending and subsequently strengthening their country’s strategic autonomy in the New Cold War. This explains why President Putin waited until the very last minute to authorize his country’s special military operation in Ukraine instead of doing so eight years ago immediately after the February 2014 “EuroMaidan” coup since he still believed that diplomacy could result in Russia reaching a series of mutual compromises with the US (“New Détente”).
The Influence Of The Latest Phase Of The Ukrainian Conflict
The grand strategic goal that he was aiming for at the time was to settle their differences in Europe so that Russia could continue economically integrating with the EU after all sides peacefully resolved the Ukrainian Conflict, which could then enable the US to refocus the vast majority of its military-strategic efforts on “containing” its Chinese superpower rival in the Asia-Pacific. In that scenario, Moscow intended to serve as a bridge between East and West, both economically and diplomatically. This role would have been complemented by India’s, which is presently practicing precisely such a policy with respect to its careful balancing act between the US-led Golden Billion’s G7 and the Global South’s BRICS, the latter of which it’s a founding member. Together, they would have quickly assembled the Neo-NAM.
Alas, the US refused to cut a fair deal with Russia, which thus provoked Moscow into militarily defending the integrity of its national security red lines in Ukraine that NATO continued crossing, and in turn delayed the resumption of Washington’s “Pivot to Asia”. The author explained the reasons for this in his piece for the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) from March answering the question of “Why Did U.S. Prioritize Containing Russia Over China?”, which should be read in full by those who are interested since it’s beyond the scope of the present piece but can be summarized as the US believing that the proverbial path to Beijing and therefore world domination runs through Moscow, considered by its strategists to be the so-called “weaker link” of those two multipolar Great Powers.
The unexpected onset of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine could have resulted in Moscow becoming disproportionately dependent on Beijing exactly as Gabuev already takes for granted had it not been for India decisively intervening in order to preemptively avert that scenario. The author also explained why this happened at length in his other piece for RIAC about how “India Is Irreplaceable Balancing Force In Global Systemic Transition”. For those readers who are too busy to read it in full, the gist is that India rightly predicted that Russia’s possibly impending “junior partnership” vis a vis China would compel Delhi to become the US’ “junior partner” in order to restore a sense of balance in Eurasia, which would have been mutually detrimental for Russia and India’s treasured strategic autonomy.
Indian Grand Strategic Interests In The Global Systemic Transition
Instead of sitting back and letting events whose origins were beyond its control result in it ultimately being forced to unilaterally concede on the most important of its objective national interests, India decisively intervened through the earlier mentioned means of scaling up its purchase of Russian oil by literally fifty times and reviving the previously stalled NSTC, not to mention de-dollarizing bilateral trade through the use of other Asian currencies including the yuan. That last-mentioned development is especially important since it contradicts Gabuev’s claim that this trend is being imposed on Russia against its will in order for China to obtain strategic leverage over it. To the contrary, Russia is actively encouraging this, and India is eagerly helping it happen in spite of its unresolved differences with China.
The reason for this is because India’s multipolar leadership believes in gradually reforming the international system and especially its economic-financial architecture so that it’s more equal, fair, and just for developing countries like itself, whose strategic autonomy could be weakened through the US’ weaponization of the dollar as Washington has already done against Russia. Instead of being a crafty means for capturing control of the Russian state like Gabuev suspects that the yuan’s growing role in Russia’s international trade is tacitly intended to do, this currency actually strengthens its strategic autonomy by enabling Moscow to more easily conduct bilateral trade with its Global South partners, principally India in this context but also possibly African and West Asian countries in the future too.
From India’s grand strategic perspective, the creation of a third pole of influence with Russia and Iran in Eurasia is only half of what it’s aiming to do with respect to breaking through the present bi-multipolar impasse in International Relations in order to midwife a system of more complex multipolarity (“multiplexity”) that affords the maximum amount of strategic autonomy to all countries. This policy is intended to proceed in parallel with replicating the same vis a vis India and ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific as the author explained in yet another of his prior pieces for RIAC titled “Towards Dual-Tripolarity: An Indian Grand Strategy For The Age Of Complexity”. Taken together, India is actively positioning itself as the global pivot state in the sense of being able to most powerfully shape the global systemic transition.
The Proof Is In The Pudding
Russia fully supports this too since its leadership concluded that it’s the most effective course of action for advancing their Great Power’s grand strategic interests in the increasingly chaotic international context. This isn’t just speculation either since the whopping 99-paragraph Partnership For Peace, Progress And Prosperity that was agreed to by President Putin and Prime Minister Modi during the former’s trip to Delhi in early December – which was symbolically his first foreign visit since the pandemic apart from the brief one that he paid to Geneva that summer to meet with US President Biden – is essentially a detailed action plan for bringing this about. By contrast, the much more globally discussed joint statement with President Xi from early February is more akin to statements of intent.
These facts about the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership that both predate and follow the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict enable readers to better understand why Gabuev’s piece about Russia being “China’s new vassal” is nothing but political fantasy. There is absolutely no way that Moscow will unilaterally concede on its objective national interests with respect to the role that Delhi plays in preserving its cherished strategic autonomy vis a vis Beijing by cutting off ties with that South Asian state under speculative future pressure from the People’s Republic. Doing so would be grand strategic suicide and contrary to everything that the Russian leadership has done thus far to jointly assemble a third pole of influence with India in order to give each other an edge in the US-Chinese New Cold War.
That’s not to say that the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership won’t continue to play a leading role in accelerating the global systemic transition to multipolarity, nor that the economic-financial basis of their ties won’t comprehensively expand and subsequently strengthen even more than it already has, but just that Moscow won’t ever be beholden to Beijing in any circumstances since it can rely upon Delhi as its irreplaceable valve from Chinese and Western pressure alike. The same can be said for India vis a vis its careful balancing act between the American and Chinese superpowers since Russia plays the role of an irreplaceable third-party balancing force for relieving pressure upon it from those aforementioned two, which therefore ensures that neither Great Power ever becomes those superpowers’ “junior partner”.
Gabuev’s prediction that “Russian leaders will have little choice but to…curtail Moscow’s relations with other countries, such as India” – not to mention possibly even supporting “China’s positions in all regional and global issues, most notably in territorial disputes between China and its neighbors” like India – is therefore fundamentally flawed as confirmed by the facts that were shared in the present piece related to the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership’s shared goals in the global systemic transition to multipolarity and all that they’ve thus far achieved with respect to balancing Russian-Chinese relations. It would be best if he and those commentators that are ideologically aligned with him incorporated this undeniable into their analyses going forward, but no one should hold their breath.