India has closed the deal for the purchase of the ‘Admiral Gorschkov’, a Cold War era Russian aircraft carrier. It is expected this ship will come into service with the Indian Navy around 2008, just in time for the retirement of the INS Viraat, their current aircraft carrier.
It is quite interesting that there is a continuing armaments relationship between the Russians and India, despite the seismic geopolitical changes of the last decade. An untutored alien landing for the first time on Earth would make no sense of it. The roles of the US and the USSR in that region should be reversed, Russia should be partnered with the alternating military dictatorship and semi-democratic kleptocracies of Pakistan and the US with India, the oldest liberal democratic state in Asia.
Relations between nations have layers within layers and oft-times deep and conflicting historical roots, I am aware of some of the public history of the region, but cannot help wondering if there is a bit more to it, an unspoken geopolitical undertext.
India has centuries of liberal European traditions behind it. It is also not likely to change very much even under severe pressure. Generations would come and go before the paperwork for change was properly submitted, checked, authorized and filed. In a Cold War world the risk of India actually going Red was rather slim and thus of less worry than perennially unstable Pakistan.
Pakistan borders China and is within spitting distance of Russia across a ultra thin panhandle of Afghanistan. The region is wild and uncontrolled and right in the hotspot is the contested Kashmir Province. Given the location and the consistant interest in access to the oil and southern oceans shown from Tsarist through Soviet days, Northern Pakistan was absolutely ripe for fun and games with the KGB. It seems obvious checkmating this move was of far more Realpolitik value than telling the Indians how much we admired their history.
With the end of the Evil Empire, much of Geopolitics changed, but the full extent of the re-alignment of interests in this part of the world did not really click into place until September 11th, 2001. Islamic fundamentalists were already a clear and present danger to the Russians. Nutcases don’t even have to board an airliner to get to Moscow. They can drive there. After 9/11 they were also top priority to the US.
Over the last century or so, the Russians have ticked off a lot of people on their borders and they know it. They’ve done a far better job at this than the US… so it is somewhat in their interest for the US to take the brunt of whatever direct ire is caused by sorting out the problems. Otherwise they would have to deal with it, and given their level of success in Afghanistan and Chechnya, I would not have much hope for solutions from that direction.
From the Russian viewpoint, it is ideal if the US stabilizes Pakistan and acts as the lightning rod for fundamentalist ire; meanwhile they help arm India so that in the worst case, a fundamentalist takeover of Pakistan, India can keep Pakistan occupied and looking away from Russian territory.
The Russians see the regional problems up front and personal; they are damned pretty much whatever they do and aren’t very good at building stable liberal democracies. They haven’t even worked the bugs out of their own yet. The US is somewhat less at risk from the downsides of action in the region since it is far, far away and bordered by oceans and democracies. Not that such is a total protection. It just means the crazies have to expend more energy and more resources to carry out their attacks. To put it bluntly, the US stands to lose a smaller number of cities to the fundies than would Russia.
So there is method to this madness. You just have to sit a moment in everyone’s chair and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’