Russia Acquires Vadinar Port In Gujarat , India. Why ?


BY R.K.MISRA

Until October, few would have imagined that Russia would peacefully acquire in India what it could not get through a bloody war via Afghanistan in the 1980s: An all-weather, warm water, deep-draft port, Vadinar, giving it access through the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.

In the 1980s, a perceived control of Kabul was a prerequisite for Moscow to reach Gwadar Port in Balochistan, a project that failed.

Now, however, with the virtual gift of Vadinar in Deobhoomi Dwarka district of Gujarat, India has, ironically, fulfilled a three-century-old imperial dream and colonial ambition of Moscow,writes senior journalist Virendra Pandit in his blog published in The Quint.
I reproduce this insightful piece by Pandit who heads the Ahmedabad edition of a national financial daily for it’s sheer strategic depth and understanding of regional geo-politics.Also appended at the end is a link to the original piece in The Quint.
BY VIRENDRA PANDIT
In the merciless world of global diplomacy, geopolitics and self-interest, friendship is directly proportional to usefulness: Each country keeps its eggs in all possible baskets. Even India, despite verbal warfare and LoC violations on a daily basis, has kept all the doors and windows open on Pakistan, including the status quo on the latter’s MFN status.

Now, Russia also needs its old foe, China, if only to counter America on issues such as Syria, Ukraine and Chechnya in the UN. In the Goa BRICS Declaration, therefore, Moscow went along with Beijing, kept silent on Pakistan terror gangs, and ignored “old friend” India’s concerns.

The unfolding of Vadinar diplomacy may point to the emerging macro-political scenario in South Asia in which, as globally elsewhere, there are no permanent friends or enemies.

To start with, Saudi Arabia’s state energy firm Aramco unsuccessfully tried to buy out Essar refinery; both India and Russia seem to have scuttled the move. And then, it was ‘unprecedented’ that heads of governments of Russia and India — Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi — were witness to the signing of a routine business deal between Essar Oil and Rosneft and its associates. But, and since this did happen, therein may lie the importance of Vadinar.

Why Vadinar port, more than Essar Oil, apparently matters so much to Russia?
Until October, few would have imagined that Russia would peacefully acquire in India what it could not get through a bloody war via Afghanistan in the 1980s: An all-weather, warm water, deep-draft port, Vadinar, giving it access through the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.
In the 1980s, a perceived control of Kabul was a prerequisite for Moscow to reach Gwadar Port in Balochistan, a project that failed.

Now, however, with the virtual gift of Vadinar in Deobhoomi Dwarka district of Gujarat, India has, ironically, fulfilled a three-century-old imperial dream and colonial ambition of Moscow.

The Vadinar Port, and its associated facilities spread over some 2,300 hectares (23 sq km), receives nearly 70 percent of India’s crude oil imports. But that is a small, even collateral, issue for Russia.

Russia’s aspiration for the Indian Ocean is as old as its imperial capital, St Petersburg, itself. Until Peter the Great (1682-96), Russia was the frozen eastern and north-eastern end of Europe. Peter commenced its eastward expansion in Asia in that colonial era; by the mid-19th century, Russia expanded relentlessly up to Vladivostok in eastern Asia, so much so that it came to be seen as mainly an Asian country with a European soul. Its ruthless Orthodox Christian Tsars were, in Europe, even known as “Khans”.

Russia’s Quest For Warm Water Ports

St Petersburg’s Far East Asia expansion was inevitable as other colonial powers of Europe had sliced up the “world” into their spheres of colonial influence and financially poor but resource-rich Russia was left with the frozen Siberia to chew upon. Most of its various frozen ports remained closed for better part of the year, making international trade impossible.
Peter, and then Catherine the Great (1762-1796), therefore, formulated and followed the state policy of acquiring all-weather, warm water ports elsewhere to conduct their colonial and business objectives.

But Russia could not succeed, as encircling colonial Europe and neo-colonial Japan reached South China Sea as well by the beginning of the 20th century. Japan even defeated Russia in a naval war there in 1904.

Despite communism and its “anti-colonial” propaganda, the Russian government’s medieval policy of acquisition of warm-water ports continued in the 20th century Soviet era as well. This was strengthened by the “Brezhnev Doctrine”, envisaging that Moscow would “protect friendlysocialist countries” even if by force.

Wearing this “legal” mask, Russia had already invaded Hungary (1956) and then Czechoslovakia (1968). But, due to the America-led encirclement treaties like NATO, CENTO etc., Russia’s quest for warm water ports through expansion in Europe was not possible.
After the British left India in 1947, Moscow saw an opening in this region; the British Raj had kept Moscow in check in South Asia for two centuries. In the 1970s-80s, “friendly” governments in Afghanistan and India (which was also now a “Sovereign, Secular, Socialist, Democratic Republic” thanks to the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976!) gave Russia an opportunity to seek an “invitation to protect socialism” in Afghanistan.

With the apparent aim of eventually acquiring Gwadar in Balochistan, Moscow invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s. But Washington and Islamabad frustrated this game-plan by using Taliban guerillas and then invasion of Afghanistan.

Now, with Pakistan facilitating the Chinese control of Gwadar, by crushing its own Baloch rebels, the South Asian geopolitics is set to undergo a sea change. It would facilitate the Gulf region’s energy flow to energy hungry Beijing via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Russia, too, needed an alternative to Gwadar. And she may have found one in Vadinar.

London, Washington’s Watchful Eye

Both London/Washington, on one hand, and Beijing, on the other, have been historically apprehensive of the Polar Bear fishing in the warm water Arabian Sea, and, by implication, in the Indian Ocean. That was, apparently, why America turned a Nelson’s Eye to China acquiring Gwadar from Pakistan as, Washington believed, it would create a balance of power in the strategically unstable, terror-infested and nuclear-armed region having no NATO-type security umbrella.

Despite India’s alleged “bonhomie” with Washington, the USA would not, therefore, disturb the terror-Army-ISI gangs in Islamabad – except in Afghanistan-specific matters such as the Taliban and the Haqqani networks – if only to keep in check the off-and-on Moscow-New Delhi “axis”.

In other words, Washington is more interested in protecting the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan than the Radcliff Line between India and Pakistan, which explains why America would not go beyond lip service on Kashmir.

Because of this same reason, Beijing, despite its growing business in India, would continue to support Jaish-e-Muhammed and other Islamabad-controlled “non-state” actors, and oppose India’s claims on NSG, to keep New Delhi on tenterhooks.

The Fluctuating Alliances

Not that some Pakistanis are not concerned at China’s sweet game on Gwadar. The daily Dawn recently quoted Senator Tahir Mashhadi, Chairman of an Upper House Committee, as saying that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could become a new East India Company! Also, some Pakistani lawmakers expressed concern that China could eventually use the $46 billion, 2,442 km long CPEC to boost its trade with India, a far bigger market than one that Islamabad offers!

And, aware of Pakistan’s mercurial politics, Chinese Ambassador to Islamabad Sun Weidong recently rushed to Imran Khan in an apparent bid to protect the mammoth investment in CPEC, ahead of the former cricketer’s party planning to stage a blockade in Pakistani cities against the Nawaz Sharif government.

Thus, South Asian geopolitics, involving global powers, is once again pitching India and Russia on one side and (America)-China-Pakistan on the other – these temporary alliances may fluctuate one way or another. If energy-guzzler India is ‘reinventing’ its 1971 friendship with Moscow, Washington has no qualms in silently watching another energy-deficient, China, gobble up warm water port of Gwadar for the Gulf crude.

Interestingly, India has termed the Rs 86,000 crore Essar-Rosneft deal as the biggest FDI event in the country’s history. But, in the long run, this “FDI” may turn out to be more of an Indo-Russian port exchange plan than a debt-retirement scheme for Essar.

It may not create any fresh jobs — on the contrary, since the Essar refinery would now, for all practical purposes, be a Russian-controlled company, Moscow could conveniently restructure and redeploy the existing staff, thus curtailing Indians’ job opportunities!

In other words, Russia has settled Essar’s debt in exchange for acquiring Vadinar Port and the adjoining refinery. Thus, Moscow has almost ‘purchased’ Vadinar Port in the Gulf of Kutch — from India! This is also borne out by the fact that Rosneft’s partner, United Capital Partners (UCP), a major Russian private investment group, has reportedly said it may sell its stake in the $12.9 billion deal within five years.

In that case, it would increase the stake of Rosneft from 49 percent now to 73.5 percent; Trafigura, a Russo-Dutch energy company, would own 24.5 percent, and Essar the remaining 2 percent of the stake – and they may, too, exit subsequently.
Rosneft boss Igor Sechin is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This circuitous route was apparently adopted to bypass Western sanctions against Russia in the Syrian, Crimean and Ukrainian matters.

Neo-Colonialism – 21st Century Style

So, could Vadinar become a Russian port by 2021? Wait!
But there is also a national security angle to this India-Russia deal. In 1999, at the height of the Kargil conflict, the Jamnagar-based refineries of Reliance and Essar Groups were said to be among the targets of Pakistan Air Force (PAF); in 2016, however, Islamabad dare not target the Russian (Essar) refinery in Jamnagar! Even if it chooses to target the Reliance refinery, it will have to overfly both Vadinar Port and Essar’s refinery.

India may have lost a refinery to Russia and gained a security cover for another; on the other hand, Russia has got a foothold at Vadinar, in the Gulf of Kutch, in the Arabian Sea — and into the Indian Ocean. And China is handling Islamabad like crockery for the sake of Gwadar.
Welcome to neo-colonialism in South Asia in the 21st century!

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