LOCATING RUSSIA IN THE EMERGING GEOPOLITICS OF CENTRAL ASIA: MAPPING INDIA’S OPTIONS
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Russia’s relationship with the Central Asian region has been established since the recorded history. The former had colonized the region and established its exclusive control for more than 200 years. India on the other hand, had been sharing long historical and civilizational bonds with the region as it has been falling on the old Silk Route. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) and the subsequent emergence of Central Asian countries as sovereign states led to a saga of drastic changes in the geopolitical milieu of the region. Russia had lost its superpower status, as it had been entrapped in political, economic and security conundrum. Consequently, Russia had altogether ignored the CARs and drifted towards the West and supranational institutions to restore its state machinery. Thus, the former had adopted a passive approach towards the latter in response to the Euro-Atlantic tilt that had drastically impacted the bilateral and regional engagements. On the other hand, India’s engagements with Russia and the Central Asia had undergone a paradigmatic shift. In this milieu, power vacuum was created in Eurasia that led to New Great Game in the region, which again obligated both Russia and India to engage with the Central Asian region given their multifaceted interests at stake. Given the geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic significance of the Central Asia as well as the power vacuum left by the Soviet retreat, enticed the major powers and regional actors towards this region. Indeed, the interests of the US, China, Turkey, Iran, India, and Pakistan, have been counterpoising with each other to enhance their respective influence. The battle for gaining their multifaceted interests has turned the region into a strategic fulcrum, wherein China has been increasingly strengthening its geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic leverages and thereby, challenging the US, Russia and India in the region. Unlike China, the US has been also consistently trying to restrict the multifaceted interests of Russia and rising influence of China. On the other hand, Russia has been considering the region as its backyard and an area of privileged interests. Furthermore, the regional countries like Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan have been playing their cards to enhance their respective footprints in the Central Asian region. To protect and promote their respective multifaceted interests, the regional actors have also been taking sides with the major stakeholders. In the changing geopolitical dynamics, the time-tested friends India and Russia, have realized their reciprocal interests to rejuvenate their ties both at bilateral and at regional levels. For India-Russia relationship, the regional developments present the compatibility of mutual interests, particularly in Central Asia. Simultaneously, Indian strategic maneuvering has been taken by other way around by Russia. It creates a v peculiar situation between India and Russia in the Central Asia. Moreover, the growing strategic proximity between Russia and China and in recent times with Pakistan has been poising a significant challenge for India in the region. In this background, the present study, therefore, examines changing relationship between Russia and CARs in the post-Cold War era. It also evaluates the multifaceted interests of the US, China, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and India in the region and how Russia has been reciprocating their strategic maneuvers has also been examined. Moreover, given Russia’s leading geostrategic leverage in the CARs, it becomes more interesting to see, how IndiaRussia relationship has been going in general and in context of Central Asia in particular. Furthermore, the study examines about how Russia acts as a bridge between India and Central Asia. At last, it is difficult to say with certainty that either it is only lack of political willingness or geopolitics of the region which is responsible for the low level of engagements amongst Russia, Central Asia and India. At this juncture, it is argued that lack of regional connectivity is the major challenge of the low level of engagements. Moreover, the existing lack of political will as well as the rising geopolitics of the region could be held responsible for the same. In order to come out of this quagmire, the three regions needed to come together on one platform geopolitically, geo-economically and geo-strategically. The three might potentially turn the regional geopolitical conundrum in their favor, which may become one of the most gigantic economic zones by exploiting the untapped sea of opportunities. In this way, a new world order would be created that may be more suitable for promoting regional peace, harmony and development which has been a prerequisite for safeguarding their multifaceted geostrategic interest in the region.