Indian withdrawal from Caucasus-2020 military exercises: Does US steers Indian Foreign Policy?

By Seymur Mammadov

Seymur Mammadov
Seymur Mammadov is the Director of the International Expert Club «EurAsiaAz» which deals with strategic issues of Eurasian Region.

India refused to participate in the Caucasus-2020 military exercises, which will be held in Russia in September. The reason for this step in the Indian military department was called the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulties caused by its consequences, including the organization of logistics.

There is a serious question raised by military and regional experts if the main reason lies only in the coronavirus or are there other reasons?

On Sunday, Indian media, citing the country’s Ministry of Defence, disseminated information that India had refused to send its military contingent to Russia to participate in the Caucasus-2020 military exercises, where not only the Russian military unit but also the units of Pakistan and China are scheduled to participate.

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the main attention will be paid to the introduction of the experience of modern armed struggle and to stimulate commanders to solve the assigned tasks outside the box.

However, when staff talks were held in Volgograd last week with representatives of the countries participating in a strategic command-and-staff exercise of the Caucasus-2020, then the Indian side did not report a sharp change in its plans. Moreover, the Indian media reported that the Indian Ministry of Defense is going to send a contingent of 200 troops to military exercises in Russia. But at the last moment, the Indian authorities reversed their decision. What are the reasons for such last-minute withdrawal from a commitment?

Is the coronavirus problem? Unlikely. Let’s remember a recent fact – when at the height of the pandemic there was an armed conflict on the border of India and China, COVID-19 did not prevent the transfer of Indian units across the country.

However, the Indian media themselves, for example, the Times of India and The Print, claim that the matter is not in the coronavirus, but in the fact that the troops of China and Pakistan, with whom India is in conflict, are going to take part in the exercises. If this version has the right to exist, then how can explain the participation of the Indian military contingent in the Center-2019 military exercises in Russia, in which the servicemen of China and Pakistan also participated?

In this case, the version of the Indian media – “the factors of China and Pakistan” does not look convincing enough.

In support of what I have said, I will cite another important fact – on June 23, 2020, the foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China held online negotiations, despite the military clashes on the Indian-Chinese border.

At this meeting, much was said about the concerns of Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi in connection with the “destructive line of a number of states” aimed at dismantling the existing architecture of international security.

This format of the meeting provoked irritation in the United States, which thought that Russia was allegedly seeking to assume the role of a peacemaker in the Sino-Indian conflict. But in fact, official Moscow has never interfered in the internal affairs of these two countries, since it knows that the issue of Sino-Indian relations is a bilateral issue. Russia can become a mediator in the Sino-Indian issue only if India or China shows interest in this.

The reason that India refused to participate in the Caucasus-2020 military exercises in Russia is not pandemic, but entirely political.

The United States could well “ask” India not to participate in these exercises, since in recent years the role of the Russian factor in Sino-Indian relations has been rapidly increasing, and Russia’s military-political relations with both countries have become especially stronger.

Americans are greatly annoyed by this development. Therefore, it is not surprising that the United States is constantly putting pressure on India in connection with New Delhi’s desire to acquire Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems.

Last week, Clark Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, demanded India not to buy the S-400 and Su-35. It is not the first time that Washington has tried to convince New Delhi to abandon the S-400 with the help of blackmail, threats and cheap military-political demagogy.

However, given that the geopolitical interests of India and the United States coincide in South Asia, New Delhi will try to listen to Washington’s opinion and there are reasons for this.

First, during the presidency of Barack Obama, the strategic interests and partnerships of India and the United States laid the foundations for the formation of the Indo-Pacific region. The Trump administration has stepped up military-strategic and economic cooperation with New Delhi in the format of a new geopolitical space – Indo-Pacific. The “China factor” has markedly contributed and continues to contribute to the rapid improvement in Indian-American relations.

Secondly, in the 1990s. the Indian community in the United States numbered more than 3 million people, and currently more than 16 million. Both of America’s key parties, the Republican and Democratic, advocate close ties with India, which is a rare example of their agreement on foreign policy.

Third, India’s military-industrial complex is still more focused on actively developing cooperation with the United States than with Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, US arms sales to India currently stand at about $ 18 billion and could grow after approving a deal that will allow India to buy $ 1 billion worth of naval weapons and ammunition.

Thus, despite US pressure on India, Washington and New Delhi are alike concerned about China’s growing political, military, and economic power. Over the past decades, the interaction between the two countries has evolved towards a real strategic partnership, an integral part of which are joint efforts to form a new geopolitical space – Indo-Pacific.

The United States will always try with the hands of its friends and partners to disrupt military exercises in which Russia and China are participating. But the Americans will not be able to disrupt the exercises Caucasus-2020, they will take place anyway, but without India’s participation …