I believe in the Russia-India-China triangle - retired intelligence chief / News / News agency Inforos
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I believe in the Russia-India-China triangle - retired intelligence chief

Russia’s former foreign intelligence service director tells about India, its ties with neighbors and security in the region

07.02.2019 15:25 Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director (1996-2000), First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (2000-2004), Ambassador of Russia to India (2004-2009), spent almost 20 years in India

I believe in the Russia-India-China triangle - retired intelligence chief

Trubnikov: Saying that India is just a state means belittling the role of the civilization of India and Hindustan that has made a direct contribution to the development of the mankind's science and culture. Everything is intertwined there. Such religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam appeared at the same starting point. From this point of view, it is of course a civilization, and present-day India is a modern stage of the development of the Indian civilization.

Question: One of the first Europeans who travelled to India was Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin. If we go from the 15th to the 21st century what would surprise him in present-day India?

Trubnikov: It is unlikely that he would have discovered something extra new. He would have just got convinced that India reached such heights in its development that many powers both of the past and the present world order would envy it.

Naturally, Afanasy Nikitin could not even imagine that India would become the largest exporter of software, and the Silicon Valley in the United States would be inhabited predominantly by Indians. He would have got convinced that India is not just "a country of miracles" but a country of miraculous development, of rather complicated and controversial development, but this only proves that everything is dialectical in the world, just as the unity and struggle of opposites. India is a brilliant example. The history of India's cultural development is a huge palette of various cultural vectors. And they all live together and coexist.

Q: What has made the economic leap possible and what are the prospects of the Indian economy?

Trubnikov: I think that advertence to the main thing, the educational system, played a crucial role here. Just one example. India was not the first space explorer, but the Indians were the first to launch an educational satellite. It selectively worked for various regions, Indian states with a totally different target programs.

The satellite broadcast to the tribal area how to dig a well, while to the state of Kerala (the most educated India's state, 95% literacy) a live broadcast of a Nobel Prize winner from the Harvard University. And Indian students in the state's capital of Thiruvananthapuram were able to listen to the lecture of this professor just as Americans in the university hall. A medical operation carried out for example at the Bethesda hospital in the United States is broadcast for Indian surgeons who sit in front of their TV sets. They watch and learn.

The Indians are taking the best from the today's world of science, technologies, and they pay the costs. They understand that only thanks to a colossal leap in this sphere they are capable of bridging a gap between the rich and poor in the country. And they are doing a lot to bridge this gap. I don’t know where else in the world there exist "fair prices" stores.

Q: How have anti-Russian sanctions influenced bilateral economic and political relations?

Trubnikov: The Indians are searching for ways out from difficult situations. For example, they found a possibility to bypass American sanctions as far as purchases of Russian arms are concerned. The Indians remember the experience of relations with the Soviet Union, when we used barter and settlements in rupiahs. They didn't forget and easily detached themselves from American banks and switched to direct settlements in spheres affected by the sanctions.

As part of this settlement system, we once got what India was paid for in hard currency on the global market, that is tea and jute which are hard-currency goods.

Q: Could it be said that the United States is using India to deter China and Russia?

Trubnikov: A couple of years ago a professor of the Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University came here to deliver a lecture on India's foreign policy. I asked him then, "Mr. Swaran Singh, we have always defined, and you have always defined, India's policy as non-alignment, and what about now, in this changing world?" And he said, "If you what to know my definitions, this is multi-alignment." "Multi-alignment" is in fact means multi-vector Indian policy. India understands well its national interests, sovereignty and its partners' interests. It has never been and will never be one's puppet, that is for sure.

Q: Does this mean that it is impossible to exert pressure on India?

Trubnikov: No pressure would be enough. Why did Americans call late Indira Gandhi a political beast? Because her reaction to pressure was as one of a trapped beast, the more it gets into a trap, the more terrible its reaction will be. And India's partners, especially its neighbors understood that long time ago. And here we are psychologically close to Indians; don't dare to "rub our nose!" Never will this happen! India is a surprising country that has swiftly mastered hi-tech spheres keeping at the same time its absolutely traditional everyday lifestyle.

Q: Some people thought that after the murder of Indira Gandhi our bilateral relations went down. And in your opinion what are the prospects of Russian-Indian relationships today?

Trubnikov: That wasn't the thing. Not cooling but a certain slowdown and even stagnation came to our relations after we ran "with our skirt up" to hug the West, rather than after the murder of Indira Gandhi. Meanwhile, the Indians were rapidly developing and conducting rather liberal reforms, and the economy was developing without unnecessary strain. And the Americans, as good businessmen, profited from it. They started a systemic work with India, and it turned out that we one day found out that the Indians seemed to have swayed to the Americans. Actually, the Indians didn't sway to the Americans, but the Americans changed their priorities in the region because of China's growing strength. And the only counterbalance for China here is India. And of course, the Americans eagerly sacrificed its previous ally, Pakistan.

When the United States understood who can really confront China, it changed its policy. The notion that is used to describe the whole region, and I agree with it, is not just Pacific region, but the Indo-Pacific region. And without India the Asian-Pacific region is China's, it is no more America's region. And the Americans promoted the concept of the Indo-Pacific region through Japan.

This approach has an objective base. Maritime routes, especially energy transportation, bring the Indian and Pacific Oceans together from the geoeconomic point of view. In particular, the route from Sakhalin to the port of Mangalore through the Pacific Ocean is important for the Indians.

This is a natural concept but it came as a surprise for many people. And the current tetrad of India, Japan, Australia and the United States is an attempt of the Americans to confront China's idea of building security architecture in the region based on the One Belt, One Road initiative. The Indians have treated this Chinese idea cautiously from the very beginning. But I think that today the Indians begin to think about other ways of competing with China rather than teaming with the Americans.

Q: India has offered China to build infrastructure in northeastern India as part of the economic corridor project that would bring China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh together. This corridor is a part of the Belt, Road initiative. Earlier India opposed the project. Why are they coming closer to each other?

Trubnikov: India is rather pragmatic. The past three decades convinced the Indians that military means of resolving crises are, as a rule, fraught with grave consequences. That is why I see India's position as follows – non-confrontational solutions to key problems with China should be sought.

India and China may unite their effort to educate and show development prospects to these people. And there is no need to draw an unpassable barbed-wire border there! Who does need it? There is a natural border there, mountain ranges drew it – you cannot leap them and you cannot pass them shod with boots. This is a unique place that could well become a platform for cooperation.

As for Kashmir, this is Britain's horrible heritage. In general, the border situation in the Hindustan region is a classic heritage of English colonial rule based on the "divide and conquer" principle. It is its political style to leave a wound between India and Pakistan that resulted from the colonial division bleeding for more than 70 years. When the Indians and the Pakistanis are able to overcome their ego and think about it, they will come to a conclusion that cooperation in this region could give thousands times more to both sides than confrontation.

I am happy about one thing – General Musharraf, whose rule in Pakistan was overthrown with the support of the Americans, was the only high-ranking politicians in the past several decades who came up with the idea of gradually solving the Kashmir problem and suggested how to do that. And he is a Pakistani, he is the nation's leader.

In my opinion, the Indians did not expect such a sudden U-turn on behalf of their neighbor. They got used to Pakistan being a source of terrorism, got used to things being "hot" there, which is actually the reality.

I said at two or three conferences that India, not Pakistan should initiate a peace process in Kashmir. Anyone who comes up with, I would say, reconciliatory position in Pakistan, would be politically dead.

The best and the most suitable for India recent Pakistani leader, Nawaz Sharif, got a seven-year prison term on corruption charges. He is former prime minister! The man who tried to build bridges with India. Why did it happen? Because the military elite is "sorting out" policies in Pakistan, and they want no normalization. That is because the military power in Pakistan relies on confrontation with India. They started to live this way, they are living this way and they are going to continue living this way.

Q: It turns out that the Anglo-Saxons are interested in this kind of instability?

Trubnikov: Publicly they favor everything good, but they sit idle, trying to be just referees in this process. And if they remain referees, they will be promoting a solution where they will still remain masters of the situation. The Indians understand this well, that is why their position is simple – no mediators. Regretfully, they propose nothing themselves. And I criticize them for that publicly.

At first, my stance on that aroused their incomprehension. They began to suspect that a famous Indologist who worked so many years in India and did so much for Russian-Indian friendship had changed his attitudes and suddenly taken pro-Pakistani positions. Nothing of the kind! I have never taken pro-Pakistani positions. I have always been taking pro-Russian positions. Just as the Indians, who take pro-Indian positions.

Q: Russia and Pakistan have recently signed a memorandum on an offshore gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and India. What role could this project play in the relationship between the two countries?

Trubnikov: I have always been a strong advocate of building the Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. But there are very complicated and sensitive issues related to economic interests of certain participants in the projects – our Gazprom, and the Iranian and Pakistani side. The issue from the economic point of view is so far not about India. So far. But they are very much interested in this pipeline and are ready to invest into the project and protect it. But a certain confidence climate is needed, primarily in relations between Pakistan and India. No one in India wants Pakistan to have a valve that would easily close gas supplies. I assume that it is possible to reach an agreement on protection, relevant security guarantees for this gas pipeline. I see this project as a real and realistic idea.

Q: And whose gas may be supplied, Iran's, Turkmenistan's, Russia's?

Trubnikov: That depends on who will consume it. Pakistan, for sure. And India will, if political interests don't intervene, and they intervene quite often. It should be directly interested in this.

The Gazprom management previously thought that the balance of our economic and political interests should be very clearly sorted out. What should dominate here for us? I'm deeply convinced that political interests. Many friends of mine say, you are behind the age, you should be guided solely by commercial interests. But I would never pin faith to a foreign partner especially given lessons of our history. We were very often blatantly rebuffed at the most difficult time. And I have had and will have no confidence in those who introduce sanctions against us that are not explained in terms of the demand of this country. Why should a European state that has no ties with Ukraine be fighting for Crimea? Uncle Sam said, "It will be so" and they nod their heads. And what should we finally be guided by? It turns out that by solely our relations with the United States. Some say that we are able to solve problems only with them, and this is wrong because China and India are left out. Our ambitions should be based on the assumption that the Indians have long ago grew out of small pants. This is a strong and self-respecting power. It lacks formal recognition of this status but it already has every element needed for a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Germany has nothing of the kind, because it doesn't have nuclear weapons, and India has.

Q: So, is the idea of the Moscow – Delhi – Beijing triangle that Yevgeny Primakov advocated still topical?

Trubnikov: Let me remind that this triangle was first mentioned by Vladimir Lenin, who said that the peoples of Russia, India and China will define the world's future. And Mr. Primakov rightly reminded that there is an understanding of what these countries could do if they are together. I believe in this idea.

The weakest side of this triangle is India and China. We have good relations with China, we have good relations with India, but the two have tensions with each other. That is why we have to do a lot to make this triangle equilateral. It seems to me that it is quite possible but one should be patient and use various experience and best practices.

We had been moving to the conclusion of the border treaty with China for more than 33 years. We had constantly worked, step by step, we had been arguing but we still had been moving ahead. A portion is agreed on, fine, sign it, and move ahead. There is diplomatic potential that is capable of solving even the most complicated border issues. So, to my mind, this triangle is quite real and alive.

Q: How have tensions between India and China influenced South Eastern Asia?

Trubnikov: In general these are no tensions in a strict sense. This is what is called skirmishes, small border provocations. One should wait a bit longer and see how the situation will develop after relations with Sri Lanka were normalized and how serious the issues in relations between Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar are.

I personally believe in the Russia-India-China triangle because this is not a far-fetched idea. Probably, time has yet to come to implement it. This is also an important factor. A problem should ripe – it will then either burst or one will be able to calmly cut it, prepare and taste. This is all the difference.

Q: And to what extent do we hear each other?

Trubnikov: I think that at the top level we both hear and listen. What's next? When these things go down to the bureaucratic machine, accents may change and interpretations suddenly appear. To cut it short, "replicas" appear, not the real things that are meant to be in the place of honor.

Q: What is the future of the North-South transport corridor?

Trubnikov: I can say that once China announced the One Belt, One Road initiative, the first that occurred to me was what will happen to our North-South project. I see no extra threat to this project.

I have a detailed proposal. The technological unpreparedness of the Russian port of Olya for transporting goods is a stumbling block. We have different railroad standards, tracks first of all. Guarantees that there will be return load are needed, which means that a container ship that arrives from Iran to Olya will not only be unloaded but also loaded with something, so that this doesn't turn into a one-way road.

China's idea is obvious – its project should bring it, as a supplier of goods and investments, to Europe. This is how I see this idea.

Any project, if we continue to create something new, should be justified by economic interests, indices and what is more by security interests.

In any case, it seems to me, that the North-South corridor should not only be showcased, it should be thoroughly worked on, otherwise it will vanish from the sight and minds of those who now think about it. A person should see a result of his work.

Q: What are the prospects of relationships of Russia and India with other countries?

Trubnikov: I think that we have grown to have an impression about what other countries want, what they can and what they cannot. It is useful to have this knowledge. Interests of partners, especially strategic ones, should be respected. This is the viewpoint I take in my attitude to the great country called Republic of India. One should first learn to understand its interests and then learn to respect them, but if one understands these interests well, respect comes by default. That’s for sure.

India has still remained a huge reserve of international good will. Once it was one of the leaders of the Non-Alignment Movement (Egypt, Yugoslavia and India), and now it can well play a balancing role. Not to be balancing itself, but to soften controversies between superpowers without forgetting about its own interests but at the same time keeping in mind the interests of the world all over the world. Our interests here coincide, just as our souls and culture.

(An interview with the Profil journal, abridged translation)

 

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