Russian President Vladimir Putin. Source: Photoshot/Vostock-Photo
A casual glance at some Chinese maps in the early part of the last decade would have revealed that many in the Middle Kingdom claimed vast areas in the Russian Far East. Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Sakhalin and large tracts of Russian land were shown as parts of China in maps, which fell short of having the covert backing of the establishment. In all fairness, many parts of what make the Russian Far East were ceded by China to Czarist Russia in the 18th century.
In 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin in one masterstroke agreed to hand over Tarabarov Island and half of the Bolshoi Ussuriski Island on the Amur River to China as a final settlement of the border dispute between the two countries. China then agreed to relinquish all claims on Russian territories. The handing over of these tiny blots on a map once and for settled the border question with China. There were some small protests in the Amur region in Russia, but this soon became a forgotten issue. Relations between Russia and China have never been better than they are at the moment, not even during the early days of Stalin-Mao camaraderie.
Putin’s domestic policies may be a topic of heated debate in certain circles in Moscow, but few in Russia question his vision when it comes to foreign policy. The world knew almost nothing about the man who would be behind the resurgence of Russia on December 31, 1999, when Boris Yeltsin would step down and hand over the reins. India was drifting further and further away from Moscow and realigning itself with the West. It took a tremendous initiative and vision from Putin, who has been one of India’s best friends over the last decade to help bring Moscow and New Delhi closer.
A visionary, Putin could see the emergence and arrival of India on the world stage before other members of the permanent five of the United Nations Security Council even spared a thought for what they considered an insignificant country. The annual summits that have become a mainstay of the Indo-Russian diplomatic calendar have gone a long way in the re-warming of ties between Cold War allies. Trade between the countries, though still below potential, is rising, the countries have moved ahead together in the defence industry with several joint projects and most important of all, within the last decade, the people have begun to rediscover each other’s countries.
India, indeed, enjoys a special position among both the people and the political establishment of Russia. While Putin talks about Russian foreign policy, he never fails to use the word “friends” in the same sentence as India. Some of Russia’s other allies are often referred to as partners but that’s where it stops. The all-weather friendship between the countries will stay strong despite irritants that crop up from time to time.
If there is one area where President Putin sets a good example for India, it’s his diplomatic skills and ability to see the larger global picture. Not many in India appreciate Moscow’s warming of ties with Islamabad, but it’s important for New Delhi to understand that the threats (veiled and unveiled) and the language of war that comes from the West is a serious threat to world peace and stability. If America extended its war theatre further east from Afghanistan, the entire region would be destabilized.
Russia, under Putin, has always spoken out against escalation of conflicts. The West-induced or backed wars particularly in the Middle East have brought nothing but death, destruction and untold misery to the masses. Can anyone say with a straight face that Libya is in better shape now than it was 3 years ago? If there’s one primary reason that Russia has opposed a coup d’état in Syria, it’s because Moscow doesn’t want to see the country turn into another Libya. India has not taken strong-enough stands on global issues and will not gain any international respect if it chooses to remain ambiguous.
Well before the latest wave of destruction began in the Middle East, Putin made a brilliant speech on international security. “Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems,” Putin said at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy in 2007. “Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished.”
In words that ring true almost 6 years later, the Russian President said: “Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force - military force - in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.”
It wouldn’t be inaccurate by any stretch of the imagination if I called Vladimir Putin a great statesman and a man of peace. Of course, I don’t expect some of my western colleagues to agree with me. These are the same kind of people who praised the Nobel committee when the European Union was handed the Peace Prize! The EU was given the award after one of its most important members, France bombed Libya to enforce a bloody and destructive coup d’état.
A good statesman in the 21st century is one who can stand up for the ideals of peaceful resolution of conflicts and respect international law despite the fact that global bullies may garner enough support from subservient states. It’s up to India to decide whether it will take principled stands on global issues or continue to stay in a shell. As an Indian, I can only hope that President Putin can nudge India in the right direction when it comes to taking up its international responsibilities and standing up for the ideals that are the foundation of the modern India republic.
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