India and Russia announced a multibillion dollar arms deal today, Reuters reports, a story that says a lot about the new Asian power dynamics.
First, this tells us India won’t be an American patsy. Buying arms from Russia is a way among other things to assert India’s independence and to ensure that it doesn’t become too dependent on the US—and therefore too vulnerable to American diplomatic pressure.
But the deal is aimed less at the US than at Pakistan. India-Russia cooperation in Afghanistan is part of what brings these countries together. The US welcomes that; neither one of these countries wants Pakistan’s ISI to be able to turn Afghanistan back into a nut sanctuary where delusional religious radicals can train, plan and prepare for terror strikes and infiltration in Central Asia and beyond. The US is fine with that, on the whole.
It’s also a sign of how weak China-Russia ties really are. Both countries like to invoke this relationship as a way of balancing the United States, but pretty consistently when push comes to shove China and Russia do not work in concert or see eye to eye.
Overall, the big picture shows India continuing to shift the bulk of its weapons acquisition to the west. Russia’s arms industry has its strengths, but it cannot compete with western (including Israeli) technology for many purposes.
India’s quest for energy remains a driving force in its foreign policy. Cooperation with Russia on nuclear energy (again, a way of avoiding too close a dependence on the US and its allies after the experience of US sanctions against its nuclear program) is important to a growing economy which has limited domestic reserves and difficulty extracting them.
Overall, here we have a sign of just how complicated—and interesting—the Game of Thrones has become.