Last weekend was Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday. Now it’s not germane to this piece whether he cut a cake, danced or made history by drinking vodka (Putin is a teetotaller).
The news genre requires a peg to hang a story on and the reference to his birthday gives us the peg to take this forward, into the realm of India and Russia.
Recall the day India and China agreed to end the standoff on the Doklam Plateau in Bhutan.
A day earlier, Russia’s ambassador in Beijing Andrei Denisov said in public, that his country would not take sides in the standoff between India and China.
Denisov’s comments appeared careful and calibrated. He said: “The situation on the India-Chinese border is something we all regret. We think our Chinese and Indian friends can resolve the problem by themselves. We don’t think they need any mediators who can influence their respective positions on the issue.” There may have been some disappointment in India over that studied enunciation of neutrality, after all Delhi and Moscow go back a long way. But to be fair to Russia, it’s unusual for any ambassador to be neutral about the country he is serving in. Ambassador Denisov’s remarks are all the more interesting given the pressure he may have been under from his host government, to back them up on Doklam.
The credit here goes not to Denisov but Putin. That statement was interpreted correctly in Delhi’s South Block and provided proof, if any was required, that Russia is not in Beijing’s pockets, at least not yet. Russia watchers in India say Putin has always been bullish about this country, seeing a valued diplomatic and strategic partnership.
The Modi-Putin meeting in St Petersburg four months ago saw agreement on Russia building two more nuclear power reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. At the Xiamen BRICS summit, Russia reportedly played a key role in facilitating the naming of terrorist groups in the final declaration.
The doomsayers may warn that the Delhi-Moscow bilateral is running out of steam but the ground reality doesn’t convey that impression:
India’s indigenous nuclear submarine programme has developed in large part to technology and expertise from Russia; the Akula class attack submarine Chakra is another with one more on the way; earlier there was the Brahmos cruise missile project; plans to acquire the Russian S-400 ballistic missile defence system is moving forward. Russia is well aware that for India, these projects have one enemy in mind, China.