Russia's Post-Pokhran Dilemma

Jyotsna Bakshi,Research Fellow,IDSA

 

Different views and emphases emanating from Russia following Pokhran II and Pakistan's nuclear tests in Chagai hills in Baluchistan are symptomatic of the growing pluralism of the Russian society as well as of the inherent dilemma of the Russian state and the strategic community. Russia's official spokesmen and commentators have all emphasised that India's nuclear tests that were followed by the nuclear tests by Pakistan, have placed Russia in a difficult situation. Russia is a part of the exclusive nuclear club of the P-5 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council) and a co-architect of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) concluded in 1968 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996. India considers both these treaties to be discriminatory and has refused to sign them. Russia is of one view with the other members of the P-5 in seeking universal acceptance of both these treaties. At the same time, Russia also values its time-tested and traditional friendship with India.

During the Soviet era, Moscow tried to reconcile the two apparently contradictory demands on its policy by making a general appeal in favour of universal adherence to the NPT, but refraining from overtly criticising India for not signing it. The Soviet publicists did take note of India's compulsions i.e. the threat perception from nuclear China in conditions of unresolved border dispute with the latter. In the centrally controlled Soviet system, it was indicative of Soviet policy. The Soviet media was more vociferous in its criticism of the pro-West threshold countries like Israel, South Africa, etc. for not signing the NPT and continuing clandestine nuclear programme. China, which had not signed the NPT at that time, also came in for stringent Soviet criticism. Moscow repeatedly expressed its serious concern at the reports of secret Chinese assistance--coupled with the Western tolerance and connivance--for Pakistan's nuclear programme.

Moscow also refrained from criticising India for her peaceful nuclear test in 1974.

The Soviet Union consistently showed understanding for India's nuclear position. In view of India's opposition to the Pakistani demand for the creation of a nuclear-free zone in South Asia while nuclear weapons exist all around the subcontinent, Moscow abstained from supporting such a proposal. However, in November 1991, when the Soviet Union was breathing its last, in a dramatic change of policy, Moscow suddenly supported the Pakistan-sponsored UN Resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in South Asia to the great consternation of New Delhi.

Persistent economic woes, political uncertainties and known disarray in its armed forces coupled with slow pace of military reforms owing to economic constraints have forced Moscow to rely more and more on its nuclear-strategic forces for ensuring its security and territorial integrity. While the former Soviet Union had declared its commitment to no-first-use of nuclear weapons, present-day Russia is no longer committed to it. Russian nuclear doctrine has moved closer to that of other Western countries, viz., USA, UK and France that rely on nuclear deterrence--albeit at lower levels of arsenals--and without the promise of no-first-use. On the nuclear-strategic issue, Moscow stands firmly with the West.

Post-Soviet Russia's official line vis-a-vis India is that the differences over the NPT and CTBT would not be allowed to come in the way of their multifarious cooperation. The task of exerting pressure on India on the nuclear issue is largely left to the USA, indisputably the most powerful country in the post-Cold War period. It seemed that in its present state of relative weakness and dependence on Western economic assistance, the Russian government would not like to do anything that would disturb the present balance of power and annoy the West.

The present system of international relations due to historical reasons, is largely dominated by the Western powers led by the USA. Russia has been accepted in most of the fora as a part of the system. Last year, Russia was admitted to the G-7 also, the grouping of the world's richest and the most advanced countries which consequently became the G-8. However, the fact remains that although Russia has no overwhelming impulse and need to question and oppose the basic parameters of the current world order, still it is not a very satisfied member of the system. The eastward enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) raises a grave spectre of security threat for Russia. Moscow is piqued by energetically pursued US policy of cultivating the former Soviet republics and giving a prop to their "independence" so that a resurgent and cohesive Eurasia does not again pose a challenge to the West as the Soviet Union did earlier. The declaration by the USA of oil and gas rich Central Asia and Caucasus as the sphere of US interests has particularly irked Moscow as also the overtures of NATO to Ukraine, the Baltics and other former Soviet republics. Russia also has reasons to be dissatisfied with the scale of Western economic assistance.

As regards India, there seems to exist a general consensus in Russia regarding the need of cementing ties with New Delhi. India is often referred to as Russia's "strategic partner." Indo-Russian broad geo-political interests not only do not clash, but in most cases coincide.

Official Response

India's nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, therefore, put Russian policy-makers on the horns of a dilemma. In its official response Moscow unequivocally criticised the tests. President Yeltsin lamented that "India has let us down." The official statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry on May 12 expressed "alarm and concern" and "very deep regret in Russia" over the Indian action. The statement urged India to reverse its nuclear policy and sign the NPT and CTBT. An apprehension was expressed that India's policy may lead to a chain reaction in South Asia and beyond. This, in fact, became the leit motif of all Russian pronouncements on the subject. Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov remarked that India's decision to carry out nuclear explosion was "short-sighted" and "unacceptable" as far as Russia was concerned. He felt that there was a serious risk of India-Pakistan conflict and added, "We especially would not want Pakistan to follow in India's footsteps."1 Moscow is one with other P-5 countries in their desire to keep the nuclear club small and exclusive and not allow new entrants. It is not prepared to recognise India as well as Pakistan as nuclear weapon states as according to the NPT only those states which had nuclear-weapons or had exploded a nuclear device prior to January 1, 1967, can be regarded as nuclear weapon states.

But, at the same time, Moscow made it clear from the very outset--in contrast to the US policy--that it is opposed to imposing sanctions against India. Sanctions may only prove to be counter-productive. Moscow would rely on diplomacy to try to bring about a change in India's nuclear policy. It was announced that Russia's cooperation with India in the civilian nuclear sector would continue. President Yeltsin's scheduled visit to India later this year also stands.

It soon became clear that the nuclear tests would not come in the way of multifarious Indo-Russian cooperation. On May 14--just a day after India tested the nuclear device the second time--the conference of Joint Indo-Russian Council that oversees technical and scientific collaboration between the two countries opened in Moscow in an atmosphere of goodwill and friendship. The Russian Co-Chairman of the Council, Academician Marchuk, called for an intensification of high-level contacts and cooperation.2 On May 15, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Vladimir Kuroyedov was reported to have said that the handing over the warship Admiral Gorshkov to India was very much on the cards. Kuroyedov also confirmed that Russian warships would take part in the joint exercises with the Indian Navy in the coming autumn. He added, "We regard India as a great friendly partner in the vast Indian Ocean." It was also reported that Russia had offered more nuclear submarines to India.3 It was made known on May 19 that Russia's Atomic Energy Minister, Yevgeny Adamov, would be visiting India shortly to sign a supplement to the agreement of 1988 on the construction of an atomic power plant in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.4 Thus, Moscow gave a clear signal that despite differences on the nuclear issue it would be business as usual with India. Moscow also made it clear that India's nuclear-strategic programme was purely indigenous and there was no question of transfer of Russian military nuclear technology to India.

The nuclear tests by India did not put an end to Indo-Russian bonhomie and general goodwill between the two countries.5

The leaders of some Opposition parties in Russia took a different stand from that of the government. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov and the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, welcomed the Indian nuclear tests. The high profile Speaker of the Russian State Duma and a prominent Communist leader, Gennady Seleznev, lauded India's determination in continuing its nuclear weapons programme despite US pressure. He also took favourable note of the readiness of the Indian government to join international non-proliferation efforts following its tests.6

Russian Media More Candid

The Russian Press was more candid and forthcoming on the issue. Opinions and impulses in the Russian society along the broad political spectrum that could not--for understandable reasons--find expression in the official statements were voiced in the Press. Official statements tend to be brief and cryptic. News analyses and commentaries in the media dilate upon them and give an insight into the thinking and predisposition of the informed and articulate sections of the society that impact on the policy formulation process directly or indirectly. Plurality and multiplicity of the views expressed reflect the total reality in a given society and the existence of different interest groups. They work as policy inputs in various degrees in the given constellation of domestic and foreign factors and variables.

Following the Indian tests, a barely concealed and widespread Russian grudge against the West at the treatment meted out to the country following the Soviet collapse, came to the fore in the media comments almost spontaneously. The Indian tests were seen as questioning the essentially unfair and iniquitous world order that the West sought to impose. These views were not confined to the Communists and the nationalists, but were expressed in such papers as Izvestia, Rossiskaya Gazeta, and Nezavisimaya Gazeta known for their proximity to the government circles and present day financial tycoons in Russia. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, for instance, is owned by Boris Berezovsky, a prominent banker and industrialist and one of the Semibankershina (seven bankers) who are believed to be wielding enormous economic and political power and influence in the country. An understanding and sympathetic approach was adopted towards the Indian position and the reasons propelling her to conduct N-tests. Izvestia (May 14), for instance, in its headline said, "Moscow Will Not Quarrel With Its Ally--Indian Nuclear Tests do Not Threaten Russia." The author, Maxim Yurkin, remarked that the political figures of the two countries view each other as "potential allies." Although in public statements it is not specified, wrote Izvestia, against whom such an alliance could be directed, in private discussions Russian and Indian diplomats willingly open the cards: both Moscow and New Delhi see a threat in the excessive strengthening of China and the Islamic extremists. In the eventuality of any deterioration in Sino-Russian relations, India is regarded as the "cornerstone" of Moscow's foreign policy. The paper particularly emphasised that India is not Iraq, Iran, Libya or North Korea. To befriend her is not shameful. The reference obviously was to India's long record as a practising democracy and the international prestige that she enjoyed from the very inception. The paper also published another report of worldwide reaction to the Indian tests under the heading "Condemnation in Words--But Not in Deed."

Vladimir Kucherenko in Rossiskaya Gazeta highlighted the double standards of the West and the latter's attempt to preach "Victorian morals" to India. India, he said, can also pose some inconvenient questions. Why cannot India, for instance, ensure its own security through nuclear weapons at a time when other countries have this right? The Western attitude was attributed to the theory of the "clash of civilisations." The West, for instance, did not apply the same criterion to Israel, which is known to have acquired its own nuclear warheads since the late 1960s. It seemed to the author, the growing economic, political and strategic strength of India is coming in the way of creating a US-dominated world order. The author felt that India has placed Russia in an "involved situation" and "Russia has found itself between two fires." However, there was one silver lining in the whole affair and that is the emerging possibility of moving towards a multipolar world favoured by President Yeltsin and the Russian government. It is mainly the USA that is coming in the way of disarmament. The USA is continuing to develop satellite-based weapons, electro-magnetic weapons, laser guns as well as "battle stars" and floating platforms which can launch dozens and even hundreds of cruise missiles in one go. This coupled with the eastward expansion of NATO is inducing Russia to retain its nuclear weapons. It is providing India and other Third World countries a carte blanche to develop their own nuclear weapons.

Writing in Izvestia (May 19), Vyacheslav Nikonov remarked that "many developing countries silently applauded India for its nuclear test as a rare slap on the face of the West." Although the action of the Indian government cannot be justified, yet the Indian nuclear tests were the first major proof of the obvious imperfection of that model of the world which replaced the earlier bipolar world. The author sees in it the failure of the USA to play the role of the leader of the monopolar or unipolar world and a moral and impartial arbiter and a fighter for promoting democratic ideals. The USA seemed to have adopted a different attitude towards the nuclear missiles of its allies--Israel and Pakistan. Pakistan is an authoritarian state, emphasised Kucherenko, and is known as the key world centre of Islamic fundamentalism and drugs. Pakistan's test firing of the Ghauri missile was not reprimanded by the West. The author felt that Russia had concentrated on relations with the West and the East and allowed its relations with India to be neglected, while the main threat to Russian security, in fact, came from the South. Russia, thus lost the opportunity to influence Indian policy. India felt increasingly isolated in the world.

The summit of the G-8 countries which took place soon after the Indian tests, expressed concern over it. Nezavisimaya Gazeta (May 13) remarked regarding the G-8 that a club in which countries like India, China and Brazil are not included cannot hope to represent the absolute leadership of the world. It may be regarded as the club of the "old" powers trying to preserve their position in the face of the growing influence of the "new" powers. It was noted that today India is the world leader in the production of English language computer software. Her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is more than that of Italy and Britain though a little less than that of Germany. Although India is still a poor country with a lot of illiterate people, still what happened to China in this century may happen to India in the coming century. China has become, due to a totality of factors, the second most powerful country after the USA.

Another Russian publicist, Dmitry Yeliseyev, remarked that the G-8, or the countries of the rich North have not yet accepted the fact that the millenium of Europe i.e. the global domination of the Anglo-Saxon and Franco-German civilisations is ending. He added that the sanctions can hardly have a serious political effect on India. If they failed to break the back of the political leadership of such relatively small and vulnerable countries as Iraq, Libya, Serbia, North Korea and Cuba, it would be naive to expect them to have a serious effect on the world's second largest (in terms of population) state, which has a powerful economy and a developed infrastructure of economic relations. It seems a new geo-political situation is emerging in the south of Eurasia with India playing the main balancing role in the region. It is also probable that India and Israel would form an unofficial bloc in order to counter the potential appearance of the "Islamic bloc."7 The Russians believe that India's geo-political ambition or flow is towards the southern oceanic direction. Russia does not apprehend any threat from India.8

Sergei Sokut in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (May 15) gave the reasons why Russia cannot impose sanctions on India. India and China happen to be the two biggest customers of Russia's cash-starved defence industries. If Russia was pressurised by the USA into reducing its military cooperation with India, potential rivals like France, Britain and Israel would take immediate advantage of the situation. Besides, the East European countries and some of former Soviet republics may also try to step in as the suppliers of military equipment to India. Sokut noted that India was not only an important buyer of the Russian military equipment, but also contributed to the financing of Russian R&D.9 A Russian writer, in fact, opined that at present Russia depends more on India than India depends on Russia.10

Moscow's Main Worry

It was clear from the very beginning that more than the Indian tests Moscow's main worry was the threat of other threshold countries also--and above all Pakistan--turning overtly nuclear. Russia urged Pakistan to show maximum restraint in connection with the Indian tests and adhere to all non-proliferation norms.11 The Pakistan Ambassador was called to the Russian Foreign Office and this message was conveyed through him. The Russian Embassy in Islamabad also got in touch with the Pakistani authorities on the issue.

On May 21, President Bill Clinton and President Yeltsin talked on the telephone to discuss ways to persuade Pakistan to refrain from nuclear tests and to encourage India to join the CTBT. The same day, late in the evening, President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vajpayee also held a telephonic conversation. Prime Minister Vajpayee told the Russian President that India would not conduct any more tests and that India was ready to negotiate on a treaty dealing with general and complete nuclear test ban.

Russia was concerned that the Indian tests could disturb the current "fragile balance" among the nuclear powers and open the floodgates of nuclear proliferation. The emergence of new nuclear powers would destabilise the situation and lead to a new arms race in Asia. It was apprehended that after India, Pakistan would turn nuclear, following which other threshold countries--some 12-14 of them--would seek to cross the nuclear threshold. A number of them, notably Israel, Iran, Iraq, Libya, UAR, etc., are situated in close proximity of the southern underbelly of the former Soviet space thus having a direct impact on the Russian security. Vyacheslav Nikonov in an Izvestia article (May 19) stressed the need of expanding the boundaries of strategic dialogue with the USA. He also emphasised the need to discuss seriously the "conceptual crisis" of the NPT and the need to ensure the speedy ratification of the CTBT.

However, Russia enjoyed little leverage with Pakistan to be able to influence its decision. The USA, China, Japan and some Islamic countries of West Asia, especially Saudi Arabia, happened to be the countries that could exercise some influence over Pakistan. Note was taken of the Japanese efforts to convince Pakistan not to go nuclear. Japan happened to be a prominent aid donor and invester in Pakistan. Japan had emerged after the Soviet collapse as the main counter-balance to China in the region because of its economic strength. The Indian nuclear tests appeared to have cardinally changed the situation. It has become clear that whatever be the economic strength, unless it is backed by military power, it cannot alone make a country a great power. To the Russian publicists and analysts, it seemed in general that the Indian tests had woken them to the reality of the significance of military power in the local and regional context.

As the possibility of Pakistan also conducting its own nuclear tests appeared imminent, it seemed to the Russians that the statements of some Government of India leaders also did not "help in easing the situation" and only tended to "push Pakistan" towards its own tests.12

In the interregnum between the Indian tests and the Pakistani tests, Pakistan and China moved closer to each other and the temperature in relations between India and China tended to rise. Soon after the Indian tests, the General Secretary of the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan, Shamshad Ahmed, prominently visited Beijing where a "complete unity of views" was claimed to have been reached. The Russian Press widely published reports of the Chinese aid to Pakistan in the nuclear and missile field. The Russians seemed to be trying to judge the pros and cons of various alternatives before Pakistan. One such alternative perhaps was China taking Pakistan under its nuclear umbrella. What seemed to come in the way was China's declared policy of opposing military blocs and not participating in them.13 The demand in Pakistan was growing for carrying out its own nuclear tests. The USA was reported to have offered attractive aid proposals to Pakistan to dissuade the latter from going overtly nuclear. The line of abstaining from conducting nuclear tests came to be associated with accepting the "tutelage" of the USA. In such a case, Quazi Ahmed, a prominent Islamic leader, was reported to have remarked that Pakistan would become a US puppet and a "spring board" against Iran and China, which the broad masses would not forgive. On the other hand, if Pakistan went in for the tests, remarked Vladimir Mikheev, the sanctions would cost her more than $ five billion.14

Moscow, on its part, tried to tighten its own system and controls so that sensitive technology and material do not fall into the hands of states with nuclear ambition and potential. Pakistan happened to be one of them.

Pakistan Carries Out Nuclear Tests

Russia's Foreign Ministry expressed its "deepest concern" at the Pakistani nuclear tests on May 28. Hope was expressed that Pakistan as well as India would show foresight and wisdom and "refrain from taking actions able to escalate tensions in the region." On the same day, President Clinton and President Yeltsin held a telephonic talk to discuss the situation created by the Pakistani tests. Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who was at Luxembourg at that time conferring with the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, expressed "extreme alarm" at the race of nuclear arms between India and Pakistan between whom there already exist disputes and conflicts. In what seemed like an obvious moving closer of the Russian position to the other nuclear powers, Primakov stressed that in the existing circumstances the international community must take radical steps to make India and Pakistan sign the treaties on non-proliferation and termination of nuclear tests. At the same time, Primakov opposed sanctions and embargo against Pakistan as in the case of India earlier. He also said that the "new nuclear powers" should not be excluded from international dialogues.15

On May 30, Primakov made a three-point proposal, which was to be discussed by the Foreign Ministers of the P-5 at Geneva on June 4. These were: (1) India and Pakistan should be subjected to increasingly intense pressure to make them sign the NPT. (2) India and Pakistan should be made to join the international test ban. (3) Everything should be done to ease tensions in relations between the two states.16 The proposals reflected that the Russian approach was moving closer to that of the USA and other P-5. The P-5 joint communique signed at Geneva on June 4, urged India and Pakistan to sign the NPT and CTBT and settle their disputed issues, including Kashmir. Unlike the P-5 communique, Primakov's three-point proposal did not directly mention Kashmir in view of Indian opposition to internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. It was also reported that as a consequence of Russian and French efforts, the earlier US draft--which was more anti-Indian--was watered down and the final communique did not go against India's substantive interests on Kashmir. Nonetheless, Moscow went along with the other P-5 in issuing a joint communique in which Kashmir was mentioned to the consternation and pique of India. On June 6, the Security Council issued a similar resolution.17

Moscow also went along with the other G-8 countries whose meeting was held on June 12 in London to evolve a common strategy to press India and Pakistan to fall in line with the existing nuclear regime. China, Philippines, South Africa and Argentina were also invited to the meeting to evolve a common front of influential countries from all the continents. It was decided to set up a common task force for the purpose and act together to deny India and Pakistan loans from the multilateral lending agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), etc. Thus, at the global level, Moscow moved closer to the other P-5 and G-8 in their bid to deny recognition to new nuclear states and enforce the existing iniquitous nuclear order. On the core issue, Moscow does not want to take a separate line from other members of the exclusive and privileged clubs.

On the procedural issue of imposing sanctions, Moscow spelt out its opposition right from the outset and stuck to this position. Sanctions were seen as unhelpful and counter-productive. And in the case of India, they were likely to hurt Russia's national interests. Moscow also appears to have calculated that other European countries were not likely to follow the USA on the issue as European businessmen have invested huge sums in both the countries.18

On the bilateral level, Russian diplomats made it a point to assure the Indian side that Russia's policy towards India would remain the same as before and that India would remain Russia's "strategic partner."

The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan and their reverberations in the world fora took place at a time when Russia faced a grim economic and currency crisis. The fall in world oil prices--oil and gas exports are the major source of revenue for Russia—the adverse impact of the Asian economic crisis and the failure to collect taxes put excessive burden on the rouble and Russia's financial stability. It came to be known that Russia urgently needs external loans to the tune of $15 billion to ward off the current economic crisis and keep the rouble afloat. Russia's current economic vulnerability and dependence on financial flows from outside are a stark reality. No doubt, it does have an impact on Russia's image as a major player in world affairs.

Rise in the Chinese Influence

The nuclear tests by Pakistan despite the US use of both the carrot and the stick to dissuade it from doing so, were a sign of the weakening of American influence in the geo-politically important country of South Asia. The influence of China, on the other hand, seemed to have considerably enhanced. The public opinion came to regard China as its main friend and benefactor, while the attitude towards the USA took a downward turn. As Aleksei Tamilin observed, Pakistan could expect rewards from the USA only if it did not explode the nuclear device. From China, Pakistan could expect rewards in either case. In fact, China also had an interest in Pakistan detonating its device. It would keep India locked in a nuclear stand-off with Pakistan and Beijing would have room to manoeuvre. Tamilin, in fact, concluded that China gave a go-ahead to Pakistan to carry its nuclear test by assuring economic aid to withstand sanctions.19

While the Indian nuclear programme is known to be basically indigenous, Pakistan is widely believed to have acquired nuclear technology, components and uranium from outside. The Western media has brought to light the reports of secret deals of the sale of Chinese nuclear technology and ballistic missiles to Pakistan as well as other countries of the Middle East. Pavel Spirin in an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta focussed on the irony of China's stand, which is insisting today that pressure should be put on India to freeze its nuclear programme, but in its time had helped the nuclear programmes of Pakistan and Iran. By making use of cooperation in the nuclear-missile field, China has greatly strengthened its position in the region. Pavel Spirin insinuated that the Chinese have something to do with the novel phenomenon of the "Islamic bomb."20

As regards Russia, the aggravation of tension in Sino-Indian relations in the wake of the nuclear tests seems to have put Russia in an "unenviable situation." During the past few years, Russia has been following the much-touted policy of "strategic partnership" with both the Asian giants--India and China—in a bid to follow a more balanced policy towards the West and the East and be able to withstand the Western--mainly US—pressures. The deterioration in Sino-Indian relations appears to have made the pursuit of this policy much more difficult.21

In the present policy framework of Russia in which top priority is accorded to the maintenance of peace and amity with all the neighbours, official Russia would not highlight and articulate its concern at the perceived growth of the Chinese strength and influence. An underlying sense of unease is, nonetheless, discernible. The emerging contours of a joint US-China condominium to influence the developments in the region are bound to cause concern in Moscow as well as other capitals in the region.

Westerners Assert Themselves

In the aftermath of the situation created by the Pakistani tests on May 28 and 30, 1998, preceded by the Indian tests earlier, the protagonists of pro-Western policy have become more articulate in the Russian media.

It is widely agreed that there are several contending schools of foreign policy thought in Russia. The "Westerners" or the "Atlanticists" led by the then Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev were particularly dominant in the period immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union. Beginning with 1993-94, the pro-Western policy lost its appeal and the "Euracists," the "nationalists" and the "geo-politicians" began to have an upper hand. After Yevgeny Primakov took over as the Foreign Minister in January 1996, he has insisted on pursuing a balanced policy towards the West as well as the East and steadfastly protecting the national interests of Russia, while avoiding a slideback to the old Soviet policy of confrontation with the West.22

In the situation of heightened Russian concern over the prospects of further proliferation of nuclear weapons following the Pakistani tests, the "Westerners" in Russia's thinking community are calling for the maintenance of the world order and system in general and nuclear order in particular, under the overall leadership of the USA. Thus, Aleksei Pushkov in a Nezavisimaya Gazeta article argued that although it is true that the unipolar world is no ideal and the USA seems to have got tired of playing the role of the policeman in a crisis-ridden and chaotic world, it seems to him that a "multipolar" world is no "panacea" either. It may be pointed out that President Yeltsin misses no opportunity to advocate a multipolar world. It is hoped that in a multipolar world, Russia as one of the recognised great powers and one of the "poles" would be in a better position to protect its vital national interests and play a befitting role. Aleksei Pushkov, however, questions the idea of a multipolar world in the current situation as an "illusion." Europe, he says, is still not an independent pole. Moreover, it does not have a common centre from where it can operate as a single, united player in world affairs. Japan has fallen into a prolonged crisis. China is busy in primary accumulation of capital. Russia is still in a crisis. America appears to be the most powerful country for a long time. The author's foremost concern is to stop the emergence of new nuclear powers and "new poles." It would not be in Russia's interests to have a nuclear India, a nuclear Pakistan and then a nuclear Iran. What would happen if the USA refused to play the leading role, he questions. What would happen if the US policy of sanctions fails? Pushkov openly calls for a "mature, wise and constructive" US leadership to maintain order and stability in the post-Cold War world.23

On May 29, a day after Pakistan's tests, Izvestia published very critical remarks about India as well as Pakistan. Grave doubts were expressed about the ability of the Indian and Pakistani governments to show the necessary maturity, responsibility and restraint in handling nuclear weapons and ensuring that nuclear war does not break out in the subcontinent. Countering the argument that nuclear India and Pakistan would be calm and begin peaceful talks on all disputed issues, the Izvestia article pointed out that nuclear weapons had become the weapons of restraint among the P-5 after they had fought two world wars and gone through several crises that threatened a third. Their populations had learnt to live under the shadow of the bomb for decades and understand that their use is fraught with serious consequences. The situation in India and Pakistan, it was argued, is different. India may claim to be the "largest democracy in the world," still large scale poverty, corruption, caste factors, religious strife and unsteady governments were the bane of the country. In such a situation, "superpower ambition" enmeshed with nationalism could be dangerous. The situation in Pakistan is no better. There is no democracy. The Army is absolutely independent. All powerful special services control diplomacy. The problems of poverty, corruption, intra-religious conflicts are compounded by the existence of a large number of Islamic extremists of all shades. The two societies lack a mechanism of restraint. Concern was expressed that religious conflicts may turn into nuclear war in the subcontinent. The Izvestia article urged that the Western and Russian experts should work together to ensure that the two countries sign the NPT and the CTBT.

The Deputy Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Sergei Blagovolin, in an article entitled "New Era of Confrontation Without a Respite--Nuclear Weapons in the Possession of Rather too Many," expressed grave concern that Russia happened to be close to the real and potential new nuclear states. He strongly advised that Russia, the USA, Japan, a number of European countries, possibly China as well as some developing countries, must collectively create a system of "anti-missile defence" in the theatres of possible wars. He also called for speeding up of military reforms in Russia and putting the country's military industrial base into proper shape.24

The foregoing demonstrates the existence of different views in Russia on the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan. The former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, on his part, decried the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, but also drew attention to the imperfections of the present nuclear regime. He urged both the USA and Russia to take the initiative in moving towards genuine nuclear disarmament.

Moscow Opts for "Business as Usual" with India

By way of summing up, it may be said that Moscow tried to resolve its post-Pokhran dilemma by condemning the nuclear tests in the subcontinent along with the other P-5, but, at the same time, going ahead with business as usual with India. On June 21, Russia's Minister for Atomic Energy, Yevgeny Adamov signed in New Delhi a deal to build two light water 1,000-mega watt nuclear reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. The accord is a supplementary to 10-year-old agreement between India and the former Soviet Union to build a nuclear power plant in India under full International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The accord has been signed despite US pressure and criticism.25 Also, an Indo-Russian joint working group which met in Moscow in June decided to further step up defence ties between the two countries. The joint working group identified radars, electronic warfare, submarines and anti-ballistic missile systems as areas of future collaboration and joint production of hardware by defence institutions of Russia and Indian agencies.26

Moscow has clearly decided to pursue its vital geo-political and economic interests in the area. Bowing before the US pressure on the cryogenic engines deal with India in 1993 had made President Yeltsin cut a very sorry figure before his people. It had invoked strong criticism in the Parliament and Press and harmed the country's commercial interests and credibility. Russia does not want to repeat the story. Moreover, Russia also had a rather bad experience in joining the US-inspired sanctions against Iraq and Libya. Iraq and Libya thereafter froze the repayment of old Soviet debts to Russia pending the lifting of sanctions, costing the latter billions of dollars in deferred payment in a situation of grave economic crisis. Moscow is, therefore, opposed to sanctions and does not want to use this weapon against India and Pakistan.

Moscow's perception of waning US influence in South Asia following the nuclear tests and increase in China's influence in Pakistan, has prompted it to protect its own interests in the region by fostering traditional and time-tested friendship with India.

As regards Russia's dependence on Western loans and credits to ward off the present economic crisis, Moscow seems to have calculated that the West has no alternative but to shore up the post-Soviet political and economic dispensation in Russia in its own vital interest.

 

NOTES

1. SWB, SU/3226, B/4, May 14, 1998.

2. The Hindustan Times, May 15, 1998.

3. The Statesman, May 16, 1998. India is already in possession of 9 Kilo-class submarines from Russia.

4. The Statesman, May 20, 1998.

5. The Russian Ambassador in India, Albert Chernyshev, noted with satisfaction that he was the first of the foreign heads of diplomatic missions in New Delhi to be invited by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for a conversation following the nuclear tests. Among the messages sent by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to the leaders of G-8, the first one was to President Yeltsin. Chernyshev saw in it "Indian side's willingness to develop preferential relations with Russia." SWB, SU/3230, B/11, May 19, 1998.

6. The Statesman, May 20, 1998.

7. Interfax Argumenty i Fakty, no. 21, May 1998.

8. Rossiskaya Gazeta, May 13, 1998.

9. For instance, the two countries are jointly developing the multipurpose SU-30MKI fighter plane on the basis of the SU-30 plane.

10. n. 7.

11. SWB, SU/3230, B/10, May 19, 1998.

12. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 20, 1998. Particular note was taken in this connection of the statement of Home Minister L.K. Advani in which he had asserted that the Indian tests have qualitatively changed her geo-political position in relation to Islamabad.

13. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 26, 1998.

14. Izvestia, May 28, 1998.

15. SWB, SU/3240, B/9-40, May 30, 1998.

16. Izvestia, June 2, 1998.

17. The Hindustan Times, June 9, 1998. The paper reported that both at the time of P-5 Foreign Ministers Conference in Geneva on June 4 and the Security Council Resolution on the June 6, Russia and France offered effective but limited opposition to the US-UK partnership.

18. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 2, 1998.

19. Pakistan also hopes to get economic aid from the Islamic states of the Middle East. See Aleksei Tamilin, "Chrezvichainoe polozhenie v Pakistane," Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 30, 1998.

20. Pavel Spirin, "Pekin nedovolen yadernymi ispytaniyami," Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 3, 1998.

21. Ibid.

22. Jyotsna Bakshi, "Russia: Foreign Policy Comes to the Aid of Domestic Policy," Strategic Analysis, May 1998, pp. 308-309.

23. Aleksei Pushkov, "Skolko miru nuzhno polyusov?", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 30, 1998.

24. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 4, 1998.

25. The Statesman, June 22, 1998; Times of India, June 24, 1998. Russia took the stand that by going ahead with the nuclear reactor deal with India, Russia did not violate any international treaty. The USA accused Russia of giving a wrong signal to the new and potential nuclear powers and violating the Nuclear Suppliers Group protocol (1990) according to which aid in the civilian nuclear sector would be given to only those countries that have opened all their nuclear facilities to full-scope international inspection. Russia has taken the stand that the original N-reactor deal with India was concluded in 1988 i.e. two years before the aforementioned protocol.

26. The Asian Age, June 23, 1998.