India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, right, attends a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, in Moscow, Russia. Photo: AFP/Evgeny Biyatov/Sputnik

Nations have long memories and present behavior can be traced back decades. This could be as true for conflicts as for friendships.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote in The National Interest about the contribution of Russia during and after the Second World War. He wrote of “the Munich Betrayal, which showed to the Soviet Union that the Western countries would deal with security issues without taking its interests into account,” in the article published days before the 75th Victory Day Parade.

Among others attending the Victory Day Parade were the defense ministers of India and China, triggering speculation of Moscow playing host for rapprochement between squabbling neighbors. The obvious speculation was calmed by the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at the virtual meeting of RIC foreign ministers.

“I don’t think that India and China need any help from the outside. I don’t think they need to be helped, especially when it comes to country issues. They can solve them on their own,” said Lavrov.

The Russia-India-China group, or RIC, has rarely been in a bigger spotlight than now. The RIC is perceived to have tremendous potential, though it remains riddled with internal contradictions of a past superpower, a present superpower and an aspiring global power.

“Russia is likely to make an effort to reduce tension, but in a quiet way,” said Anuradha Chenoy, a former dean and professor at School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. 

“While Russia wouldn’t want to get involved in China’s expansionary acts such as in the South China Sea and elsewhere, it did speak with China during the Doklam skirmish in 2017.”

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh is likely to seek early delivery of the 21 Mig-29 and 12 Sukhoi fighter jets, and also the S-400 missile system, considered the best in the world. India has made most of the $5.4 billion payment, using rupees and roubles to avoid facing US sanctions.

After the June 15 killing of 20 Indian army men by Chinese soldiers, the two countries have toned down the temperature and talks at various levels have been held. Both countries have agreed to take measures to ease tensions in the border areas and maintain dialogue, the China Daily wrote, citing foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

Russia could only gain from its two partners settling their disputes peacefully.

China is its biggest buyer of oil and gas, generating billions of dollars in revenue, and a potential leverage against Western powers. India is an old ally, which still uses more than half its arms that were made in Russia. The two are on the same side on several global issues, including Iran and Afghanistan.

With their three-decade-long territorial disputes near the River Ussuri resolved, both powers can gain from each other. Russia is aligned towards China as an antidote to Western apathy and hostility, with an incentive to be on the right side of a de facto new economic and military superpower.

A 4,800-kilometer Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Oil Pipeline (ESPO) to China and a 4,000-kilometer gas pipeline known as the Power of Siberia binds the two powers. It helps the two resist US domination and opens a new revenue source for Russia while reducing its dependence on Europe. Meanwhile, China gets an assured supply of clean fuel for its energy-thirsty economy.

Russia and India co-operation goes a long way.

Post-independence, India tilted towards Russia after being snubbed by the United States for voting in the UN against Israel in November 1947. Russia helped set up large infrastructure projects, dams, steel factories, power plants and nuclear facilities.

Russia was for long India’s main supplier of critical armaments, some of which it manufactured locally with transferred technology, something the Russians are normally loathed to do for other countries.

In 1971, and despite its infatuation with the non-aligned movement and devoid of any superpower alliance insurance it was the Treaty of Friendship with Soviet Union that helped India. The threat of US Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal by President Richard Nixon was neutralized by the presence of Soviet navy as Indian Army overran East Pakistan.

After the USSR’s breakup in 1991, as Russia grappled to get its house in order, India looked towards the US for technologically superior weapons and positioned itself as an emerging Asian power.  

This also helped India clinch a nuclear deal in 2005, under which India would separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and put all civil facilities for inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, India could reprocess its nuclear fuel without being a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty – and get full civil nuclear cooperation from the US.  

India is also part of the US, Japan and Australia Quad arrangement. More, the US renamed US Pacific Command as US Indo-Pacific Command in recognition of India’s presence and role.

Analysts say China may have been irked by India’s greater involvement with the US and Japan, as well as India’s stand with the US for freedom of navigation through the South China Sea.

Any help in cooling the dispute with China could help Russia wean India back towards its fold while conceding New Delhi’s increased involvement with the US. But if Moscow is or plans to play such a mediating role, it hasn’t been on open display.