When Russia told Robin Raphel to stop ‘teaching India’

In the 1990s, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official told the then-US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs to not preach to India.
The Snow Maiden
Robin Raphel. Source: Reuters

The media is abuzz about veteran US diplomat Robin Raphel getting caught in the counter-espionage net. Many former Indian diplomats blame her for towing the pro-Pakistan line, which prevented New Delhi and Washington from developing their relations with full throttle. 

A former Foreign Secretary and India’s Ambassador to Washington recently recalled that talking to her was like talking to a Pakistani diplomat.

Whatever is the reality that the probe by the US counterintelligence will show, her pushy anti-India stance had once forced Moscow to tell her to stop ‘teaching India.’

Raphel was then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs in the Clinton Administration and used to frequently visit Moscow for bilateral consultations with her counterparts in the Russian Foreign Ministry.

It is believed that she had played some role in formulating certain pro-Pakistan statements emanating from Moscow, which raised hackles in New Delhi, casting doubts about Russia’s true intentions about India. Russia’s pro-West liberal Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev was in power at that time.

Many still remember the ‘cryogenic deal’ with India, when under the US pressure Moscow backtracked on the agreement signed by the government of Mikhail Gorbachev for the transfer of cryogenic technology to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), casting a long shadow of doubt on the future of bilateral India-Russia defence and technological cooperation.

However, things changed after President Boris Yeltsin in January 1996 appointed the seasoned Russian scholar-cum-intelligence chief, Academician Yevgeny Primakov as his Foreign Minister.

It was sometime in mid-1996 when Raphel visited Moscow for consultations on South Asia, a senior foreign ministry official, who was Russia’s new pointman at the US-Russian consultations frankly told her to stop ‘teaching India.’

“We in Russia with our one thousand year old history and you with your little over two century long  history have no moral right to teach and preach to India, a living, over five thousand year old civilisation,” the Russian foreign ministry official told Raphel.

Since, I was told about this episode in a private conversation and off the record, I will not be able to disclose the Russian diplomat’s identity, as he is no more among us in this world. I can only describe him as a true Russian nationalist and a great friend of India, who always came forward to help the members of the Indian community in the initial period after the Soviet collapse.

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