Russia and India in Central Asia: Competition or Cooperation?


Russia and India in Central Asia: Competition or Cooperation?

Эксперты МГИМО: Колдунова Екатерина Валерьевна, к.полит.н., доцент

Many Russian and foreign experts emphasize the current geo-economic and geopolitical shift of international competition to Central and Greater Eastern Asia in general. These regions now are in focus of vital political, economic and military interests of many international players, including Russia, China, the United States, India, the EU, Iran, Japan, and some others.

Such a shift is connected with several aspects. The first of them is the emergence of dynamic economic growth poles in this part of the world. China, India, many Eastern and South Eastern Asian states are among them. The second factor is the geo-economic significance of Central Asian energy resources. Another aspect is preconditioned by the growing number of security problems in the region. One of the most serious of them is the situation in Afghanistan and the problem of terrorism in the region.

Russia and India have a durable history of interaction with Central Asian states and currently are defining their own foreign policy strategy and interests in Central Asia. Such a situation implies both aspects of competition and potential for cooperation in the region. Further on I will focus on these two points in more detail.

Russia and Central Asian states have a very long history of common statehood and political, economic and social ties which, however, became less intense after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nowadays Russia has to formulate its foreign policy towards these states taking into consideration their independent status and own vision of international relations in the region. In the late 1990s Russia has finally understood that it is no longer the number one priority partner for the states of the region.

However there are still many spheres where Russia does cooperate effectively with Central Asian states. First and foremost this statement refers to the cooperation in the energy sphere. Secondly, the current economic crisis has significantly influenced the situation in Central Asia and demonstrated that the region still lacks modern infrastructure and logistic capability for further economic development. Even the regions’ close neighbors prefer the trade roots which do not go directly through the region. That is why Russia and its Central Asian partners can focus more attentively on the infrastructure cooperation, including energy infrastructure. A vivid example in this sphere is Sangtudinskaya hydroelectric power plant in Tajikistan. Actually the only country which has built a hydroelectric power plant in Tajikistan during the recent period was Russia. Russia is also one of the main investors in many states of the region. Moreover in the context of current world economic crisis many segments of Central Asian states’ societies are supported by those who migrated to Russia in search of jobs.

As far as India is concerned, its rising profile in Central Asia reflects the general changes of its position in the international arena. Moreover India views Central Asia as its strategic neighbourhood. However the situation of the newly recommenced so-called «Great Game» in Central Asia has a certain conflict potential in the region. The USA has clear security and probably economic priorities there as well as China. In such a situation Central Asian states may be interested in the growing India’s role in the region should they decide to follow the suit of ASEAN member in pursuing the policy of balancing between external powers.

My point is that neither Russia nor India are interested in the role of mere balancers in the region. Their political and economic interests as well as Central Asian states’ concerns may be addressed more adequately through the multilateral cooperation and joint projects which include Russia, India, Central Asian states and probably some other international actors.

Surely the idea of so-called «Great Game» in Central Asia implies first and foremost competition and at certain aspects even rivalry between the major players. However there are some spheres where cooperation is highly possible. What Russia and India can do to expand its cooperation in Central Asia?

For a beginning, both Russia and India can be economically attractive partners for Central Asian states. Both parties can expand India-Russia energy cooperation if India provides support for Russian initiatives. Security sphere is vital for all the parties, especially when such problems as terrorism, separatism and drug trading are concerned. This vision was especially stressed by the recent agreements concluded by Russia and India in the early December this year.

The specific feature of the situation in the security sphere in Central Asia is that China, another significant actor in the region, due to the objective reasons may be less interested in the joint efforts to solve the problem of Afghanistan-Pakistan than India. Thus, the multilateral cooperation between Russia, India and Central Asian states in the security sphere may have quite a sufficient ground. Cooperation within the SCO can also be fruitful in various spheres — for example, in economy and education.

The current situation demonstrates that the further development of Russia-India strategic partnership needs an expansion of traditional spheres of cooperation. The multilateral interaction in Central Asia can add a new dimension to this partnership because political, economic, energy and trade objectives of Russia and India can be achieved only through stable and peaceful situation in Central Asia.

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