Trump’s defeat in the US Presidential polls seems to be making the existing world order even more uncertain. With Biden’s accession to power, new challenges are going to crop up. Take, for example, Russia which was able to maintain a low-profile due to Trump’s near-total focus on taming China. Now, with Biden’s anti-Russia bias, the Kremlin faces the double whammy of a US President-elect who is desperate to punish Russia and go soft on Russia’s neighbour China, which is also a rising threat to Moscow.
It is a likely prospect that Biden will join hands with the European Union and Germany to isolate Russia. So, Moscow will need to rely upon its traditional ally, India and its newfound partner, Japan in order to mollify the US and also to take on the Middle Kingdom which might become an even bigger bully with Biden at the helm of affairs in the White House.
It is well known that Putin has no love lost for China, even though Moscow shares a so-called “strategic axis of convenience” with Beijing. But Russia doesn’t want to confront China openly. And it is in this context that Putin would have been content with Trump’s powerplay against China. Trump was actually making Putin’s life easier with his Great Power game against China and also ignoring Russia, at least for the time being.
But Biden is different. During his Presidential campaign trail, Biden called Russia the biggest security threat to the US and identified China only as a “serious competitor.” Leaders engage competitors and punish enemies. So, at least for some time into his Presidential stint, Biden will look to punish Russia and engage China.
Therefore, Putin should be feeling some real trouble coming his way directly from the White House. He can also envisage an expansionist China becoming even stronger with Biden’s likely decisions to drop Trump’s tariffs war against China and reduce American military build-up in the South China Sea that was directed quite clearly against China.
And when the most powerful country develops cold feet towards Russia, Putin will need to warm up to key American allies in order to gain some acceptability in the existing world order. The Kremlin needs to look no further than two anti-China, Asian giants- India and Japan.
India is, of course, amongst the closest and most trustworthy of Russian allies. India and the US might have become the best of friends, but New Delhi never left Moscow behind. Russia can count on India. And then, Prime Minister Modi is likely to emerge as the world’s biggest anti-China hawk in a post-Trump era. In fact, there can be no country in the world that opposes China more emphatically than India. India is the only country that has seen real bloodshed in its border hostilities against the PLA earlier this year.
India is Russia’s political, military, economic and diplomatic ally. By coming even closer to India, Putin can solve many problems including avoiding the risk of selling cutting-edge defence technology to the paper Dragon which tends to steal Intellectual Property (IP) designs and key technologies. India is a major importer of Russian arms and Moscow can thus direct its defence equipment sales towards India.
What New Delhi also does for Moscow is bring Tokyo into the scheme of things. Recently, for instance, it was reported that India and Russia are considering the possibility of forming a Trilateral Track-2 with Japan.
Tokyo is going to become a very important power in the context of global outrage against Chinese expansionism and the rise of Biden who is expected to go soft on Beijing. Japan has shown the ability to counter predatory Chinese loan investments and Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through reasonable development projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa.
As for Japan’s Russia ties, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was eager to make peace with Moscow, by finding a formal and final resolution to the Kuril Islands dispute– a legacy of the Second World War. However, Abe had to step down owing to health issues before he could realise the dream of a peace treaty with Russia.
Now, Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s successor, is expected to realise his predecessor’s dream of pushing a peace treaty with Russia. Anyhow, Japan and India could be already looking to join hands and invest extensively in the Russian Far East, a scarcely-populated and underdeveloped region that China has been looking to gobble up.
If Putin and Suga can resolve the Kuril Islands dispute, then it would certainly be Russia’s endgame against a belligerent China. A Russia-Japan peace deal would open the floodgates of Japanese investment in Russia, reducing sanctions-ravaged Moscow’s undesirable dependence on China.
Getting closer to India and Japan would therefore be Putin’s most natural solution to tackle the challenges posed by an anti-Russia, Democrat President in the White House. It will help Moscow get closer to the Quad and ultimately even the US. Russia is going to need India and Japan like never before, and this is going to be a rather difficult phase for China.