The dispute over alleged Russian interference in the US-election is less about whether Trump broke US law by accepting donations from foreign nationals during his election campaign, and more about whether you can be on two sides at once. Recent efforts by both Russia and the US to deepen relations with India, whilst seemingly unconnected, are part of the same attempt to square this circle. The US has made all kinds of noises about “resetting relations with Russia” for a number of years now. But when Russia asks why it is surrounded by NATO bases whose weapons are pointed at it if the US wants co-operation, no credible answer is given. The real reason is that the hegemonic rulers in the US know that you can’t be a superpower without an enemy. You can be the leader of your own side, but if there are no sides there is no one left to fight, and people start questioning your credentials.
This is why Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych (former leader of Ukraine) was told point blank to choose between Russia and the EU, when both were offering him funds to help his country stay afloat. He refused to favor one over the other, quite sensibly given Ukraine’s geopolitical location. So the EU US connived and conspired to get rid of him as an example to others: you can have the West or Russia, but not both.
So we might well wonder: why, in this age of rising BRICS influence, is India not being subjected to the same treatment as, say, Syria? On the one hand, it has remained a Western-style parliamentary democracy even though often run by avowed socialists. On the other hand it has a long history of positive relations with the Soviet Union and now Russia, which have even extended to assistance with nuclear weapons development, that “no-no” for developing nations.
India is strategically significant. It borders other nuclear states and provided access to significant resources which the locals have trouble using for their own benefit. Its growing economy has also allowed it to play a larger role in global affairs, and lay down terms for friendship rather than having them imposed upon them. So this is a country the West wants to keep onside and out of the grip of “the enemy”, whether that is perceived as Russia or any other nation. Logically, any trade deal between India and Russia should therefore arouse Western suspicion. But these already strong relations are only improving, and there seems to be little comment about what Vladimir Putin might be trying to achieve through his involvement in India. This proves the West’s disingenuousness.
Defense cooperation should be even more concerning to the West, but apparently it isn’t. Russia has recently signed agreements to build even more planes and ships for the Indian armed forces, and again the US is silent. There have been no threats of sanctions over this. According to Western geopolitics, accepting Russian assistance should make India part of the enemy camp. But the West is apparently happy to accept India’s position as the “strategic autonomy” it describes it as, rather than a hostile act. Why is India allowed to do what Syria and and many other countries on the periphery of Russia, are not? The neocons have their reasons and it doesn’t have to make sense. It only has to fit the US plan of hegemony.
The British had nothing to hold against India, unlike other colonies where the independence struggle was underway, and could thus be used to color future relations. Thanks largely to Gandhi, the British had no choice but to leave India as a friend. India went running to the Soviet Union to prove its independence more than anything. But this also set its relations with the British on a better footing: if the British accepted the India-Soviet relationship, despite general Western hostility to such relations, it accepted India’s independence, which the British had granted voluntarily to retain friendship rather than alienate this vast subcontinent forever. Sometimes this relationship took hostile forms. Indians soon came to see their politicians as a corrupt and remote caste.
But the overall effect of the long Indian-Soviet and Indian-Russian friendships has been to make any country which deals with India accept that whatever it offers, India will get the same or better from Russia. Other countries trading with India see their deals used as a bargaining chip in the next round of India-Russia talks. Defense contractors have no choice but to make ever-increasing offers, regardless of what Russia does to match them, because withdrawing would simply make India more dependent on Russia, and India’s non-alignment is now more important to the West than it is for India itself, which has obtained the means to chart a genuinely independent geopolitical course unencumbered by labels. In this respect Mahatma Gandhi has created the India he aspired to: not only independent, but a place where everyone is obliged to be friendly. If the West wants to start proxy wars with the declared enemy, as it did in Ukraine, Syria and former Yugoslavia, it won’t get away with it in India. India has gone one step further than the founders of the EU: not only has it integrated economies to make war impossible, it has integrated the interests of the powers it deals with to make war between them, using India as a pretext, equally impossible. If you deal with India, which all countries are increasingly doing, you cannot continue treating Russia as the enemy. You simply have to accept that your friend is their friend. Stopping that idea spreading, and ultimately removing the US’s global hegemony, is what the complaint about Russian interference in different countries is actually about.
Sit down and shut up
The West has imposed economic sanctions on Russia. These are not only having an effect on Russians but the wide variety of people from former Soviet states who live and work there to support families back home. Maybe the West’s idea is that these people will rise up against Russia and overthrow it. That didn’t work in Russia itself during Cold War times, and there is little sign that the modern Russian leadership is going to implode ideologically like the Soviet Communist Party did. Russia is looking to India to resolve some of the problems sanctions have brought. To lessen reliance on energy prices, Russia is exporting both arms and nuclear power facilities. Western countries are still officially trying their hardest to stop this and also stop countries from building safe and efficient nuclear power plants, and decommission existing plants. They have undermined these plans by imposing unreasonable carbon emission rules on client nations, whilst often ignoring those rules themselves .
But developing countries thus have no choice but to return to nuclear power to supply their own populations, and both Russia and India are exploiting this. If the West insists on creating enemies to maintain its own position, seeing this as a better way for the world to be, it will eventually have to confront India. But with what? Is the West prepared to offer more than Russia can, or take direct action which would force India to rely ever more on Russia? The West can’t answer these questions, but won’t have to as long as it continues treating India as a special case, allowing it to be all things to all sides. But this raises the further question: would it really harm the West so much to apply the same principle across the board, and stop identifying enemies everywhere?
The West’s declared enemies, whether Russians or Muslims, are portrayed as dangerous. Apparently people (immigrants) whom the US declares are under constant, debilitating threat themselves are able to do anything they like to harm Western interests. As with any strategic calculation, pursuing your identified interests carries risk: the benefit you gain from your actions has to be greater than the negative consequences of taking them. But it is the West itself which is saying that the people it calls enemies are doing so much harm that the interests the West is pursuing may no longer be worth the risk of doing so. The consequence of not declaring these people to be enemies is that you have to work with them and listen to them, and thus accept they might have a lot to offer. Other countries will then make that same judgment, and the US will no longer be able to dupe them and lead them as the US has done to its friends again and again.
This is the underlying objection to Trump dealing with the Russians. The accusations about foreign interference in US elections are merely used to scare Americans about Russia. Befriending Russia is not in the interests of western Neocons.
Our gaffe, our rules
If you don’t want Russia interfering in your country, you can’t deal with India. If you buy Indian goods, the Russians have been part of making them, and your trade deal will lead to more Russian influence in creating more goods for that market. If you have diplomatic relations with India, you have to embrace its friendship with Russia to gain anything from those relations. If you get involved in India’s defence or energy sectors, you have to work with Russian hardware.
This is not to say that India is a hostage of Russia. This situation has developed precisely because hasn’t forced itself upon India. India pursued an independent foreign policy as an independent nation deserving a place at the top tables. What countries like Poland and Bulgaria sought to achieve by joining the EU, India achieved by doing what the West didn’t want, but the West knew it would want things from India later on. This relationship continues without complain from the anti-Russian West. The West has got enough out of it to maintain positive relations with India and keep it in check. But Russia has a longstanding ally and a continuing footprint in the region.
India has grown so much that it is now exporting software development to the Western countries which expected it to be a dependent former colony for a lot longer. But India can’t be seen to be getting away with bucking the geopolitical rules. The West can’t confront it directly, but it can confront its own politicians who try and counter the argument that the US, in order to be the world leader, must have perpetual enemies, and every country must be forced to be either with it or against it.
Trump is making enemies wherever he goes, and has taken his country’s geopolitical posturing to extremes with his travel ban on people fleeing countries the US is terrorizing. But he is also prepared to stop treating Russia as the enemy, and that won’t do for the Deep State which has seen what India has achieved through being treated as Trump is attempting to treat Russia.
If the West meant what it said about its “enemies” it would not allow India to consort with them. In reality, it is admitting that Russia as a friend through developing relations with India. If you want to see the hypocrisy of Western rhetoric against any nation which is no threat to anyone, see how much it has allowed Russia to help India, whilst being determined to keep it a special case.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.