Russia’s ASEAN & Far East Asia outreach complements India’s vision

Russia's ASEAN & Far East Asia outreach complements India's vision thumbnail


Russia’s vision from Lisbon to Jakarta complement’s India’s outreach in SE Asia and Far East Asia and contribute to India’s Act Far East Policy that involves New Delhi’s role and investment in the resource rich Russian Far East.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin (L).

Russia is attempting to expand its footprint in Southeast Asia through its engagements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members and collaboration with India can be a win-win situation for all sides given the fact that ASEAN is part of New Delhi’s extended neighbourhood.

Russia recently adopted a five-year roadmap focused on trade and investment cooperation, the digital economy and sustainable development with the ASEAN. At the Sixth Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, Moscow’s old partner in the region Vietnam expressed interest to be a bridge to connect ASEAN to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. Singapore and Vietnam free trade agreements with the Eurasian Economic Union could contribute to future economic growth.

Sputnik vaccine is giving added incentive to ASEAN states to widen ties with Russia. Recently a detachment of ships and submarines had sailed into the Indian Ocean en route to a permanent deployment as part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet. “Russia sees itself as a great power,” according to Ian Storey, with the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Russia’s growing stakes in the region speaks for itself. “…This is reflected in its new partnerships with ASEAN, SAARC, African and Gulf countries, anchored in its weapons and natural resources diplomacy. The jurisdiction of its Pacific Fleet extends from Vladivostok right up to the Persian Gulf, effectively highlighting Russia practising an Indo-Pacific strategy,” writes Rajorshi Roy, a research analyst with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MPIDSA).

“This nascent network of new relationships could help fulfil Russia’s long-cherished dream of gaining access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean,” Roy wrote in his paper titled Indo-Pacific: A Strategic Opportunity for Russia?

Moscow has expanded its partnership with the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Russia will also gain from the multipolarity and multilateralism in the ASEAN region. Russia remains as much an Asian power as it is a European one with 2/3rds of its territory and 15 per cent of its population based in Asia, Roy argued in his paper.

Russia’s vision from Lisbon to Jakarta complement’s India’s outreach in SE Asia and Far East Asia and contribute to India’s Act Far East Policy that involves New Delhi’s role and investment in the resource rich Russian Far East. “A framework of India-Russia strategic cooperation in this space already exists, as outlined by Prime Minister Modi in the seminal ‘Act Far East’ policy launched in Vladivostok in 2019.This was seen as the lynchpin of harmonising the two countries strategic outlook,” wrote Roy in his paper.

PM Narendra Modi’s message at the last EEF and Oil Minister Hardeep Puri’s presence in the EEF are indication of India’s growing interest in the region that can be further consolidated through revival of Chennai-Vladivostok maritime link. India has huge stakes in the energy assets in the Russian Far East. The India-Japan-Russia trilateral could further contribute to bring balance to the region.

Modi in his message at the EEF 2021, highlighted the historical and civilisational significance of ‘Sangam’. He described Vladivostok a true ‘Sangam’ of Eurasia and the Pacific and by doing so he emphasised the geo-strategic location of the region in terms of connectivity. In a recent paper for MPIDSA titled ‘Prospects for India–Russia Cooperation in the Arctic’ Bipandeep Sharma and Dr Uttam Kumar Sinha writes, “The opening up of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) due to Arctic sea-ice melt is potentially making the region an important hub for shipping between Europe and Asia. Simultaneously, the Arctic is opening new opportunities for hydrocarbons and other potential resources that lie unexplored beneath its ice. Russia maintains a dominant position in the Arctic and considers the region as its strategic backyard.”

The Arctic, in recent times, has presented a new front of opportunities and cooperation between India and Russia. “In fact, when Prime Minister Modi visited Vladivostok in September 2019 for the 20th India–Russia Annual Summit, the Arctic was emphasised for the first time. The Joint Statement mentioned, “India looks forward to cooperate with Russia in the Arctic, India has been following the development in the Arctic region with interest and is also ready to play a significant role in the Arctic Council,” writes Sharma and Sinha.

“Apart from hydrocarbons, in particular natural gas, the Barents area in the Arctic region presents opportunities for mineral development as well. The Barents has some of the best known mineral deposits and some of the world’s best deep harbours from which to transport the products. The region is rich in iron-ore and the demand for steel will be critical to India’s growing economy. Russia’s oil and gas development projects in the Arctic are being given high priority. The Russian Arctic approximately holds between 3 and 25 per cent of the world’s total oil and gas resources,” Sharma and Sinha pointed out.

The NSR offers the shortest route between East Asian and Western European ports. It is estimated that the maritime distance from Shanghai to Rotterdam via NSR will be 30 per cent shorter vis-à-vis the Suez Canal route thereby cutting time by 10–12 days. Likewise, the distance from Yokohama to Rotterdam will be 40 per cent shorter.

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