(Art direction: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)
From 1 September to 16 September 22, Vladimir Putin, President of the Federation of Russia, presided the Russian military exercises Vostok 2022. Besides the Russian military, the exercise gathered troops from 14 countries, including India and China (Arang Shidore, “Vostok military exercises indicate that Russia is far from isolated”, Responsible Statecraft, September 1, 2022).
On 5 September, he opened the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. There, high level representatives from 60 countries, including, once again, India and China, and numerous Asia-Pacific countries attended the forum (“Putin speaks at forum in Russia’s far east region”, Reuters, September 7, 2022).
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On 15 and 16 September, President Putin attended the 2022 session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in Uzbekistan, where he met Xi Jinping, President of China, as well as heads of state and governments from 14 countries (“Putin, Xi and Modi attend SCO summit”, Barron’s from AFP News, September 16, 2022).
Most of the countries attending these three international military, economic and security events are also members of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also One Belt One Road – OBOR), which includes 138 member states. Furthermore, some OBOR members are also members of the International North South Transport Corridor that links Russia, Central Asia and India.
As it happens, while the war in Ukraine is raging, the status of Russia in Asia rapidly changes and strengthens, largely because of its growing importance for the energy and food security of China.
We are even going to argue that Russia is becoming a major component of the climate resiliency of India and China. The Russian new status is inseparable of the new continental network of transport infrastructures. Those are composed of the continental networks of railways and oil and gas pipelines that integrate Russia, China, India and the Central Asia countries.
Hence, the convergence of attendance to Russo-Asian military and diplomatic events and imports of Russian cereals, oil and gas by China and India in a time of climate shocks begs the question of the real state of the relations between these three major countries.
The war in Ukraine and Russia’s Asian centrality
The internationalization of Vostok 2022
At the beginning of September 2022, the Ukrainian military started an offensive against the Russian forces in the region of Izium and Kherson. While quite successful, the Ukrainian army claiming to have taken back 9000 km2 by 24 September, it appears that, at the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, the Russian President and the highest members of the general staff were in the Russian far east, presiding and leading the Vostok 2022 military manoeuvres (Hélène Lavoix, “An Alternative Red Scenario for the War Between Ukraine and Russia”, The Red Team Analysis Society, September 19, 2022 and “Vostok 2022: Russian military joined by allies in major drills”, DW, 01/09/2022; Ukrainian army has already liberated 9,000 sq.km. in the east, – Ukraine’s President, 24 sept 2022).
In the context of the war in Ukraine, those quadrennial manoeuvres gather troops from fourteen nations that send military units working with Russian military for a highly scrutinized military and political session.
Those 14 nations are China, Algeria, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It must noted that, during the 2018 edition, there were 300.000 Russian troops. At the time, the “only” other participating nations were China and Mongolia (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Militarizing the Warming Arctic – The Road to Neo-Mercantilism(s)“, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 12, 2018). In 2022, there were 130.000 Russian troops, the other troops being mobilized by the war in Ukraine.
This military gathering reveals that the Russian military and geopolitical influence extends to the whole of Central Asia, to South and Eastern Asia, to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as well as to Central America. From a diplomatic point of view, this also means that the Chinese and Indian governments wish to be seen training their military with Russia.
Each of those two countries representing 1,4 billion people, their combined demographic weight is of almost 3 billion people, meanwhile their sheer force is far from being light as they are the two mammoth Asian powerhouses (see also Hélène Lavoix, “China: With or Against Russia?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 28 February, 2022).
In this context, one must note that the maritime side of the manoeuvres took place in the Sea of Japan. The Russian, Chinese and Indian fleets are thus gathered in a region that is in a state of constant dispute between China and Japan (Hélène Lavoix, “From the Diaoyu Islands, with Warning”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 22, 2022). It is difficult not to see in these manoeuvres a silent challenge not only to Japan, but also to the Western and Asia-Pacific “Quad” alliance of which Japan is a member, alongside the U.S., Australia and Great Britain (Hélène Lavoix, “The East Seas Security Sigils”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 16, 2022).
On 15 and 16 September, the heads of states and governments of Russia, India and China met during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand, the capital of Uzbekistan. They gathered with other heads of state from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizistan, Tadjikistan, and Uzbekistan. The observer states were Iran, Mongolia and Belarus, while the invited guests were Turkey, Azerbaidjan, and Turkmenistan (“Leaders of SCO states sign Samarkand summit declaration”, CGTN, 16 September 2022).
During this diplomatic sequence, it must be noted that if the Prime minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping expressed some political reservations about the war in Ukraine, they also explicitly attended official and private meetings with the Russian president, and reasserted friendship and cooperation.
It is also worth noting that, historically, Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and in the world. The city has been one of the main points and stage of the Silk Road. During the last 1500 years, it has been a place of confluence, conflicts and exchange between Russia, China, the Mongol empire and the Persian empire (Peter Frankopan, “The Silk Roads, A New History of the World”, 2015).
Thus, choosing to host the SCO summit in this city is also a message in itself by the SCO. This message recalls and asserts the political and economic combined weight of its powerful and internationally strategic member states.
It is important to note that in an article about the summit, the Chinese Government’s sponsored international media Global Times, highlighted that:
“During the summit, Xi said China is also willing to deepen pragmatic cooperation in such areas as trade, agriculture and connectivity”.
Xi called for both sides to strengthen coordination within the SCO, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, BRICS and other multilateral mechanisms to promote solidarity and mutual trust among related parties, according to Xinhua… (and that) … Analysts said the two leaders’ summit is a crucial guarantee for the steady development of bilateral ties, signaling that China-Russia relations will not be affected by external noises. At the same time, China will also be on high alert against attempts by the US and the West to tie China and Russia into a political and military bloc and drive a wedge between the pair and the rest of the world…
“Even before the Ukraine crisis, the US and some Western countries had tried to drive a wedge between China and Russia, fearing the pair would get closer. But after the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, they tied China and Russia into one camp, playing the pair off against the rest of the world”, Yang said.
China’s interests are worldwide, and it can cooperate with Western countries on economic, cultural and even some major security issues, but there is no reason why China can’t strengthen cooperation and exchanges with Russia, which also has the right to interact with the world, the Beijing-based expert said.”Wang Qi, “Xi, Putin meet at SCO summit, forging closer times amid US-caused World turbulences”, Global Times, September 15, 2022.
This vision is what China broadcasts to the world. In other words, Beijing affirms its ties with Moscow and its will to reinforce them. While doing so, China will develop its economic ties with Western countries. Beijing also asserts that the Russia-China relationship is a partnership, however not an alliance.
All is well on the Indian front
In parallel, narendramodi.in, the official web site of the Indian Prime minister summarizes his discussions with President Vladimir Putin (Narendra Modi, “PM Modi Holds Bilateral meeting with President Putin of Russia in Samarkand”, narendramodi.in, September 16, 2022).
He writes that:
“The leaders discussed important issues of bilateral cooperation as well as regional and global issues of interest. Discussions also pertained to global food security, energy security and availability of fertilizers in the context of the challenges emanating from the current geo-political situation. In the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Prime Minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of hostilities and the need for dialogue and diplomacy…. They agreed to say in touch.”(Narendra Modi, “PM Modi Holds Bilateral meeting with President Putin of Russia in Samarkand”, narendramodi.in, September 16, 2022)
This was followed by a tweet from Prime minister Modi writing :
Text of the tweet « Had a wonderful meeting with President Putin. We got the opportunity to discuss furthering India-Russia cooperation in sectors such as trade, energy, defense and more. We also discussed other bilateral and global issues. »
In other words, the Indian Premier and Chinese President have reasserted they are going to deepen the relations between their countries and Russia. And the war in Ukraine does not seem to be an obstacle to these plans.
However, this situation begs the question of understanding why giant China and India are so keen on cultivating their relationships with Russia in such a visible way.
The stupendous impact of climate change on Asia is certainly a major factor in explaining the importance of the “Russian pivot” for India. It also helps to explain the reinforcement of the Sino-Russian already strong relationship.
Furthermore, those Asian relationships are strongly bolstered by the series of climate mega catastrophes of 2021 and 2022. Those have hammered China and India, as well as the whole South Asia continent in 2021 and 2022.
China’s and India’s climate shocks
The 2021-2022 agricultural crisis
Well-ordered charity begins with oneself
Since 2021, a growing number of major agricultural countries restrict or ban exports of their own production. The process started in June 2021. At the time, the Russian government imposed taxes on grain exports, trying to stabilize domestic food prices.
Then, in December 2021, Argentina took a similar step (Clément Vérité, “Argentina stops exports of soybean oil and soybean meals “until further notice“, Newsendip, 14 March, 2022). Since then, the Argentinian political authorities limit corn and wheat export volumes. They do so in order to control domestic food prices. In March, the Argentinian government tightened these measures.
Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Turkey, Serbia, Hungary, and Kuwait took similar steps. (Weizhen Tan, “India is not the only one banning food exports. These countries are doing the same”, CNBC, 17 May, 2022).
Then, since February 2022 and the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the exports of grain from Ukraine and Russia are also largely down. This diminution comes from the blocking of the Black Sea ports.
In May 2022, India, the second largest wheat producer, decided to ban exports. The decision was based on the destructive effects of the massive heatwave that impacted India and Pakistan. The Indian crops yield lost 20% because of a month-long, climate-change driven extreme weather event. (Manavi Kapur, “India’s extreme heatwave is already thwarting Modi’s plan to “feed the world”“, Quartz, 28 April 2022).
China… and Russia
In the context of this global agricultural crisis, since 2021, China has developed massive stockpiles of grains. Indeed, China imported 28,2 million of tons of corn in 2021. (Shin Watanabe and Eiko Munakata, “China hoards over half the world’s grain, pushing up prices”, Asia Nikkei, 23 December 2021 and (“China corn imports soar to new records in 2021”, Reuters, 18 January, 2022). This is the equivalent of 152% of the 2020 annual record imports of 11,8 million tons.
In other terms, the globalized agriculture and food markets are going through a major “perfect storm”. (Jean-Michel Valantin, “War in Ukraine, The U.S Mega drought and the Coming Global Food Crisis”, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 1, 2022).
In the current strategic and climate context, imports of Russian grain are of special importance for the Chinese food security. This is because Russia is both a major producer and neighbour. Furthermore, since the launch by Xi Jinping, of the Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR) in 2013. Russia plays a central role in this project because the Chinese railways operate through Russia in order to reach Europe.
Hence, the development of OBOR infrastructures de facto augments the shipments capabilities between Russia and China. (Frederic de Kemmeter, “OBOR-One Belt, One Road”, Mediarail.be, January 2018 and Jean-Michel Valantin, “China, Russia and the New Silk Road in Central Asia – The great co-empowerment”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 17, 2016). As it happens, a new railway bridge between Chinese Tongjiang and Russian Nizhnelenizskoye opened on 27 April 2022 and became operational during the 2022 summer.
It appears that, between January and March 2022, the trade turnover between Russia and China rose 28,7% year on year. It reached $38,17 billion for the first 2022 quarter. (“Russia-China trade surges in 2022”, The Moscow Times, 13 April 2022).
Inflation, energy and resiliency
These agricultural situations are interlaced with the energy needs of China and India. The “post” Covid economic recovery drives a rapid growth in oil and gas demand, thus driving energy prices higher. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine triggers an overheating of oil prices. The prices err between $96 and $120 since the start of the war. (Scott Patterson and Sam Goldfarb, “Why are gasoline prices so high? Ukraine-Russia War Sparks Increases Across the U.S“, Wall Street Journal, 1 April, 2022).
Meanwhile, given the daily needs of twice 1,4 billion people, India and China both benefit from the lower than market Russian oil and gas prices.
Inflation, energy and India’s resiliency through connectivity
That is why India’s import of oil from Russia have jumped from 2% of India’s oil imports to a staggering 12% in September 2022. Those imports are meant to try to control Indian inflation. This happens while Russia remains the first supplier of defense hardware for India (Aftab Ahmed, “India says it is importing Russian oil to manage inflation”, Reuters, September 8, 2022).
What makes these transactions possible is the International North South Corridor Transport (INSTC).
This 7.200 km transcontinental infrastructure is based on rail-sea-road interconnectivity from the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, Iran and India and Europe. It links hinterlands, ports and sea routes. The INSTC involves 13 countries, for now. It was established in 2000 and developed ever since. It allows products from Russia to reach India in 25 days instead of 40 days by sea connections only (“The International North South Corridor” Wikipedia and Angelo Mathais, “India Ramps Up Russian trade Volumes via North-South Corridor”, The Load Star, 23/08/2022).
The Great Russia, China, India Connection
Some commentators try to analyse the INSTC and OBOR in terms of a competition of international routes (Eurasian Times Desk, “China and India battle for Global Influence with OBOR and NSTC projects”, The Eurasian Times, January 18, September 2018). Unfortunately, they miss a crucial point. In fact, there are multiple connections between the OBOR and the INSTC. Those interconnections are de facto installed through the countries involved in both INSTC and OBOR and their transport infrastructure, especially Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran.
Russia is especially at the intersection of the two international routes. That is why it is able to rapidly export growing volumes of agricultural and energy products to China and India. This is also the case in other Central and South Asian countries.
As we have seen, Russian exports play a major part in the resiliency of China and India. Those have to face the combination of the international inflationary trends as well as the planetary climate shocks. Their imports from Russia play a key role in their resiliency to these shocks.
So, it appears that China as well as India develop deep ties with Russia, which becomes a major actor of their national resiliency. This “Russ-asian” “triad” becomes a geopolitical new entity. And it is a mammoth powerhouse. Thus, it is hard to think that one of its members could be “isolated” on the international scene.