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Why is the Biden-Putin summit important to India?

The Biden-Putin summit triggers memories of better times — of detente and cooperation between the two heavyweights on issues of international concern (Image courtesy: President of Russia/http://en.kremlin.ru/Tass)

A historic summit between the US President and Russian President has begun in Geneva. The meeting between the two Presidents after bitter feuding between the two global military powers is a welcome sign. From a history of hair-trigger tensions rooted in the several decades of the Cold War and its spillover later, the Biden-Putin summit triggers memories of better times—of detente and cooperation between the two heavyweights on issues of international concern.

In the context of the post-Covid era, the two sides, if the talks achieve progress, could well be talking about restraining nuclear arsenals and Climate Change among other pressing issues of international concern. Then, there are problems looming on the horizon which deserve urgent collective action—tapping and managing the vast resources of the Arctic, stopping a bloodbath in Afghanistan, the revival of the Iran nuclear deal and solving the riddle on the Korean peninsula, laced with the menacing nuclear weapon threat, which scares both South Korea and Japan, as well as countries beyond.

How does a possible thaw between Russia and the US benefit India?

First, any progress on strategic stability, brought about by a new roadmap for arms control talks has a cascading impact. It dramatically alters the discourse on atomic weapons, encouraging other countries with fewer nuclear weapons as well as missiles, submarines or aircraft to deliver them to go with the flow. The paradigm shift from animosity to détente can encourage India, Pakistan and China to consider lowering nuclear tensions as well. Further downstream, it could trigger an atmosphere for a follow-up debate to address other major differences among these countries as well.

Second, on a geopolitical plain, a US-Russia thaw can help in reconfiguration of the Russia-China equation, which has grown stronger after the US and the West tried to isolate Moscow, through economic sanctions and other means. While Russia will pursue its “strategic autonomy” and foster the emergence of a multipolar world, any loosening of the Russia -China equation will to that extent benefit India, allowing New Delhi more space to bond with Moscow. Fresh daylight piercing Russia-China ties, would not only help further consolidation of ties between India and Russia on a bilateral plain, it would also widen the scope for working together in other regions, including Central Asia, without a strong counter-pressure radiating from Washington.

Third, both the US and Russia, downstream may consider signing a new Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, that is reduction of nuclear missiles of a less than 5000 kilometers range. The Americans now insist that a new INF treaty must also include Chinese nuclear and conventional missiles, which can currently threaten US deployments in Guam, as well as allied bases in Japan, including Okinawa, Taiwan and possibly Darwin in Australia where the US has beefed up forces as part of its new Indo-Pacific strategy. Specifically, the US would be keen to eliminate the Chinese DF-26 missiles, called the “Guam killers” which have a range of over 5,000 km. The US would also find it imperative to see the back of DF-17D intermediate range missiles, called “carrier killers” as these have been specifically designed to destroy US aircraft carriers prowling in the West Pacific.

The Russians may not be averse to a new INF, given their distrust of China, which goes back at least to the Cold War era, when the two countries skirmished on the banks of the Ussuri river in 1969.

Any reduction of China’s missile arsenal will naturally benefit India, whose military tensions with China have been growing in recent years, iconized by the latest standoff in Ladakh.

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