. The year 2020 saw several trends that impacted both India and Russia — the sharpening rivalry between United States (US) and China, the India-China border tussle, the continuing decline in ties between the West and Russia, and the change of guard in Washington.
No issue affected the Indo-Russian relationship as much as the border tensions between India and China. The Chinese aggression, in April/May 2020, in the border areas of eastern Ladakh, brought India-China relations to an inflexion point, but also demonstrated that Russia is capable of contributing to defusing tensions with China. On the other hand, Russia’s seeming equivocation initially diminished its standing among the Indian public.
However, that changed after the first bilateral high-level political contacts between India and China took place in Moscow on the sidelines of a September meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The Indian defence minister, Rajnath Singh, and external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, met their Chinese counterparts on September 5 and 10 respectively. Earlier in June, Singh had visited Moscow to attend the Victory Day Parade. During the visit, he met Russian defence minister Sergey Shoigu and other officials. The Russians promised to positively look at India’s requests for expedited arms deliveries in view of the border conflict, despite some informal appeals against it by the Chinese.
The inflexion point reached by India in its relations with China has driven New Delhi to shed “past hesitations” and actively pursue more hard-nosed policies to protect its perceived national interests. This has included the pursuit of a closer relationship with the US; a determined restart to the Quad process — a coming together of India, Japan, Australia and the US; a clearer enunciation of “a free and inclusive” Indo-Pacific; an energetic neighbourhood policy; as well as intensified outreach to east and west Asia.
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