Russia-India-China (RIC) Group on a Ventilator
Russia-India-China (RIC) axis was an important political idea in the post-Cold War period to re-orient the multi-polarism in international relations. The relationship between Russia-India was time-tested. China-India had an accord of peace & tranquillity on the borders and mutually benefitting economic relations. The third arm of the triangle, the Russia-China relations had also taken a new shape with numbers of converging interests of cooperation. All three backed the primacy of the United Nations in solving crises and support the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states.
The RIC block had great importance in geopolitics with 40% of the world population, territorial cover of 22.5% of the total area of the world and undoubtedly, human resource’s huge potentials. However, there were vulnerabilities too as Russia was trying to come out of the shadows of the great USSR, China was trying hard to put its foothold to challenge the unipolar world and India was trying hard to come out of the economic strife. None of the three knew the internal intents of the others, yet they tried to project their voices together on the world affairs whatsoever meek that were. Most of the concerns were the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. The annual meetings in the long run became largely a ritual, devoid of any significant impact in the region. Asia was already on many platforms of other multilateral cooperation like SCO, BRICS, ASEAN, SAARC, G-8, G-20 and so on, some having much more credibility than the RIC.
After Modi came to power, he tried his best to smoothen relations with China, going out of the way through Wuhan dialogue and Chennai Connect. However, China had other ideas. It was pursuing quietly its expansionism of 5-fingers towards the LAC as well as sheltering Pakistan from any international embarrassment on the issues of their State-sponsored terrorism against India. China, an erstwhile poor nation was rapidly becoming a giant economic power next only to USA. Russia was already a major Defence exporter and had no real issues with their economies. Putin did foster an ambition of re-uniting the fragments of the USSR but NATO and EU had far extended their tentacles to get holds on many of those States. India struggled in their own, living in their shadows. In addition, it was embattled by China supported Nasalism and Pakistan supported radicalism and terrorism. Modi tried to break this shackle with an ambition of becoming a credible economic power by symbiotic relations with China that had a huge imbalance of trade. While all these hob-nob relationships were on, Chinese incursions inside LAC continued with added insults in east Ladakh, Tawang and Doklam.
While Modi was entertaining Xi on the Swings at the bank of Narmada in 2014, PLA troops had intruded inside Demchok in a stand-off. This was on the heels of 2013 PLA incursions during UPA govt when they marched beyond Daulat Beg Oldie and while retreating, occupied half of Depsang plateau, some 450-odd Sq Km with semi-permanent constructions retaining till now. While the Chinese dealt with UPA govt like their subordinate, they were trying to play with Modi a hide & seek game. Modi was the first to show them 2 fingers through a massive border road & infra development that UPA had been scared of annoying the dragon. Modi also heeded to the Army’s long requirement of raising a strong Mountain Strike Force (MSF) in 2018 and carrying out their war game along the LAC. The Chinese were ruffled with these steps. They started multiple intrusions along LAC that were immediately countered. This is what is said to have led to Galwan Clash on 15/16 Jun 2020 amidst Corona scare. Surely, the Chinese were preparing for some big PLA action in eastern Ladakh that was check-meted by India. On that day while it was a minor skirmish for the two Armies, the Strategic Cooperation of RIC was the largest casualty, on Oxygen line, gasping to breathe. None could either dissuade China from Expansionism or could persuade to give it up in the larger Strategic interest of RIC’s regional security and military might. Just imagine if Russia, India and China could have united together, what could have been the outcome in terms of united military prowess? They could have far outweighed even NATO…BUT…that was not to be. Now Russia is weakening itself in petty territorial gains in Ukraine and NATO has successfully opened a battleground in its backyard, inflicting heavy losses. China is busy trying to grab territories of its neighbors (be it Taiwan, Japan islands, 9 dotted lines in SCS against neighbours) and in turn. buying enmity at much heavier cost. It is really a bad bargain…’penny wise, pound foolish’.
RIC apparently had a Stroke after an unworthy-looking Galwan incident. The Foreign Ministers of India and China did meet in Russia in their 2020 annual RIC ritual at the request of Russia in the chair but nothing much came out of it. China promised to de-escalate but didn’t keep its word. It was only Indian swift action on the southern bank of Pangong that compelled the Chinese to pull out from major parts of the neutral zones in the Kailash prefecture. De-escalation still remains a far-fetched dream even after numerous rounds of bilateral military talks. Luckily, Modi has adopted rapid Infra Development all along the LAC, a very rapid acquisition of the most urgent weapons off-the-Shelf from US & Israel; and above all, giving an Atmnirbhar push to the Indian Armed Forces with Guns, Assault Rifles, Light Howitzers, Advanced Tanks, Advanced Ships/Submarines/Aircraft Carriers. The ready-to-fly Rafale was a game-changer during the Galwan rift with rapid induction of the indigenous Advanced Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and Combat Helicopters. Post Galwan, Indian Strategic Forces have acquired strong muscles in the form of all types of Cruise & Ballistic Missiles. All these have provided the Indian Defence Forces to deliver knock-out punches to any adversary including the so-called mighty dragon despite a significant imbalance of power at present.
Leave alone the dream of becoming a force to reckon with, Russia has been weakened by NATO with a battlefield open in its backyard, slapped with numerous EU/NATO sanctions and facing wide international condemnation. China has earned the wrath of all its neighbours for expansionism and threatening to attack Taiwan. India is trying to strengthen its foothold as an independent power in terms of a credible economy, expanding military capabilities and becoming a political voice of South-South cooperation. RIC as a bloc appears to have failed in their objectives.
In 2020 the RIC had an excellent opportunity for Strategic wisdom to overcome the differences of a petty cause of Chinese Expansionism and work for a greater cause of uniting together as a force. However, individual follies failed all. Neither Russia could broker a peace-deal with a Chinese assurance of non-indulgence, nor could China set-aside decades-old ambitions of Expansionism of Mao Zedong’s 5-finger. India of course, couldn’t have brushed aside the vast 38000 sq Km territory of Aksai Chin grabbed by China in 1960s, 5100 Sq Km area of Saksgam valley during Nehru’s days and 450 sq Km of Depsang plains in 2013 during Manmohan/Sonia Gandhi’s days. India can’t afford to lose any more land. India has to leverage any Chinese misadventures along LAC in the South China Sea thru’ QUAD, or in the Indian Ocean in their Malabar exercises. The previous US administration under Prez Trump was all for it and US did show some fig leaves in the form of a few agreements here & there but backed out from giving military teeth to the Quad by forming a parallel AUKUS. India had nothing to balance any Chinese threats/misadventures and had to grow its own might. As if Modi had a premonition of all these in advance, he has given the Indian Armed Forces adequate strength in the shortest possible time. It must be also mentioned that the Strategic Forces have also acquired credible strength through the numerous offensive and defensive missiles. The recent numerous defence deals with the US will further strengthen India in the shortest possible time frame. Despite all these, many experts feel that MEA of Govt of India could have initiated a back-door diplomacy in the larger interest of the entire RIC bloc but failed to do so.
RIC as a credible block of cooperation is on the deathbed. Its Oxygen lifeline has run out forcing it to be placed on the ventilator. Chinese ambitions and Russian crises are further dealing knock out punches. India drifting the American way, is putting an increasing number of nails into the RIC coffin. India has learnt by now that all goodwill gestures of Wuhan dialogue and Chennai connects towards the Chinese have led it nowhere. China was and is untrustworthy for India. They always carried out anti-India activities by arming the insurgents within India and arming Pakistani army/terrorists across LoC. On the contrary, Pakistan is increasingly becoming a Chinese sub-ordinate colony, fallen into the Chinese debt-trap, ready to offer/sell everything, their territories, women, honour and even livelihood. Now even Russia is trying to oblige Pakistan with favours for the Chinese nods. Till now India has tried to stand with Russia but in the views of Russian tilt towards China and Pakistan, India may have to re-think and re-shape its strategic interests. Russia showed ambivalent support on J&K when China raised the issue in the Security Council. International relations are never static and often dependent on reciprocity. Likewise, if US/EU continue going out of their way with rapprochements towards new India, Indian tilt away from RIC may become inevitable. That may become the final nail in the RIC coffin.
The idea of RIC mooted by mainly Russian leadership in the mid 1990s was to overcome their loss of power after the fragmentation of the USSR. RIC was neither recognized by the world as a formidable bloc nor did they work towards gaining credibility. RIC interactions became a mere ritual amidst the individual interests of the founders. In 2020 after the Chinese expansionism into Indian territory was check-meted by India, there was a golden opportunity for the dragon to give-up petty gains in the larger interest of fostering Strategic strength but they remained penny-wise. RIC block having high potentials, is on death beds, just alive on ventilator support. If the present trends of their relationship continue, it is sure to die.